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Wesla Whitfield: Livin’ on Love

One immediate advantage of listening to singers with stage background is they invariably begin songs with their verses. One immediate advantage of listening to an album conceived by Mike Greensill is that invariably he’ll score it for a small, versatile group that includes French horns. True to her cabaret roots, Wesla Whitfield precedes nine of her 13 gems with those neglected scene-setters, and in the capable lips of someone with operatic and dramatic training, those songs take on new meaning. Best examples: “I’m Glad There Is You,” with part of a whole-tone scale in its intro, “Once in a While,” “East of the Sun” and “Get Out of Town.”

By strict definition, Whitfield is not a jazz singer, but that doesn’t detract from enjoying her very personal interpretations. Apropos of that, on “The Gentleman Is a Dope” and “This Can’t Be Love,” the rhythm section is swinging and Whitfield is simply singing uptempo tunes. Pianist Jimmy Rowles once famously remarked “Bacharach tunes sound like third alto parts.” Listen to how effortlessly Whitfield tames “Alfie.”

About those horns: Leader Bill Klingelhoffer coaxes a sound that would have made Stan Kenton drool. Arranger Greensill scored them in such a way that their massed sonorities never bury his wife, Wesla. They never even interfere with her uncanny ability to sustain long, firm tones. Instrumentally, the MVP award goes to Gary Foster for his solos on alto, tenor, clarinet and flute.

Originally Published