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Sunny Sumter: Rite of Passage

D.C.-based Sunny Sumter is always a delight to hear. Robust as Patti LaBelle, she sings with the clarity of Nancy Wilson and the surety of Dianne Reeves. Previous Sumter discs focused on familiar material from the likes of Richard Rodgers and Stevie Wonder. This time around, on Rite of Passage (J Jordan Music JL 1514-2; 65:37), she’s chosen, perhaps prematurely, to concentrate primarily on her own compositions. “A Little Bit Longer,” the first of six Sumter originals included here, is an effective showcase for her powerful voice and impressive range but is hampered by awkward lyrics and a muddled message. Is this meant to be a salute to sobriety or simply a latter day “Que Sera Sera”? Several other potentially interesting tracks are similarly derailed by clunky wordplay, though “Not Yet,” written with guitarist Vinny Valentino and wrapped in a light calypso beat, is fresh and sweet. When Sumter does revert to the words of others, the results are far superior. Her take on Abbey Lincoln’s “Talking to the Sun” shows just how much she’s capable of when working with A-list material; her “Dindi” is delicate and inviting and she even manages to breathe new life into the vapid, old Chicago anthem “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”

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