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Rondi Charleston: In My Life

Chicago-born, Juilliard-trained Rondi Charleston jettisoned a rising career in TV journalism for the even more peripatetic life of a jazz singer. Though I never witnessed Charleston’s newsgathering abilities, I suspect she chose wisely. Hers is an immense gift, and she has surrounded herself with equally astute craftsmen, including pianist Bruce Barth (who worked with Charleston on the majority of In My Life’s arrangements and serves as her musical director), saxophonist Joel Frahm, bassist Sean Smith, drummer Clarence Penn and guitarist Adam Rogers. As demonstrated throughout this short (just seven tracks totaling 30 minutes) but immensely sweet album (Charleston’s third), she is the jazz equivalent of a gin and tonic: tart, cool, clear and effervescent, with a deliciously subtle kick.

Exhibiting superior judgment in song selection, she handles everything from Carole King’s feel-good anthem “Beautiful” and Sting’s hypnotic “Until” to Antonio Carlos Jobim and Gene Lees’ cashmere-soft “Someone to Light Up My Life” and the evocative Johnny Mercer-Jimmy Rowles rarity “Baby Don’t Quit Now” with unfailing taste and intelligence. And not since Cassandra Wilson included it on her Sings Standards album back in 2002 have I heard as enchanting a rendition of “I’m Old Fashioned.” Her flawless enunciation recalls Lena Horne, and there’s an elegant depth to her phrasing that mirrors Ann Hampton Callaway. Making up for the disc’s brevity, there is an accompanying DVD that captures Charleston live at Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. In addition to four songs repeated from the CD, it provides stellar renditions of “Bewitched,” “No More Blues” and “Waltz for Debbie.”

But the greatest highlight is the original “Telescope” (lyrics by Charleston, music by Barth), inspired by her 8-year-old daughter Emma (who joins her on stage to provide backing vocals), a velvety elucidation of the fact that the enormous complexity of the universe is matched only by the magnitude of a child’s curiosity.

Originally Published