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Susan Krebs: Jazz Aviary

Stage, screen and TV actress and sometime vocalist Susan Krebs decided a few years ago to devote herself fully to singing, and the jazz world is a better place for it. Krebs’ voice is rich and pure with an enticingly dusky patina.

Blessedly free of affectation, she rivals Karrin Allyson and Diana Krall in her ability to climb inside a lyric and make it seem as if she’s lived there her entire life. Now, apart from a few notable exceptions (Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby’s boisterous Fancy Meeting You Here and Mel Tormé’s über-hip Swingin’ on the Moon leap most immediately to mind), I’m not an ardent fan of themed albums, never quite understanding the value of stringing together an entire platter’s worth of songs relating to a single topic. Nor, for the record, is Krebs’ idea of an avian-themed disc an original one; Carmen McRae did the precise same thing with Birds of a Feather in 1958. Still, apart from the unnecessary birdcalls and trills embroidering the edges of several tunes, it succeeds wonderfully.

Under the musical direction of pianist Richard Eames, backed by an Eames-led sextet and a supplementary string quartet that provide eider-soft yet oak-sturdy nests for each song, Krebs so skillfully invades the likes of “Baltimore Oriole,” “Skylark,” “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” Lennon and McCartney’s “Blackbird” and Abbey Lincoln’s “Bird Alone” that the result is like a series of delicate yet masterfully constructed origami creatures; and her swooping, soaring reinterpretation of “Bob White” is the best, and most imaginative, I’ve ever heard.

If there’s one disappointment, it’s that Krebs has opted to make “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” (included here, presumably, because the word “whippoorwill” appears in the opening line) part of a three-song medley, when it would have been great to hear her explore the Hank Williams gem at full-length.

Originally Published