What a Diff’rence a Day Makes! (Mercury, 1959)
A game-changer for this amazing singer who was already working sublimely between jazz and blues, this LP arrived with a noticeable pop sheen, thanks to Belford Hendricks’ savvy arrangements. Washington’s rendition of the title track set a new standard, and her covers of “I Thought About You” and “Cry Me a River” are equally potent. As a whole, the album helped pave the way for soul-jazz singing.
Oscar Brown Jr.
Sin & Soul … and Then Some (Columbia, 1961)
Clearly a lodestar for such talents as Gregory Porter and Kurt Elling, Oscar Brown Jr. delighted fans with his ingenious juxtapositions of jazz and soul, humor and sobriety. Here he addresses various sociopolitical concerns within the black community-check out “Bid ‘Em In” and “Work Song”-while also celebrating its joyous folkloric traditions on “Signifyin’ Monkey.”
From a Whisper to a Scream (Kudu, 1971)
Possessing one of the most idiosyncratic voices in the soul-jazz-blues spectrum, Esther Phillips superbly captures the funk, finesse and fury of Vietnam-era black America on this milestone LP, which contains galvanizing renditions of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home Is Where the Hatred Is” and the Anna Gordy/Marvin Gaye-penned ballad “Baby, I’m for Real.” Jazz luminaries such as Hank Crawford, Dave Liebman, Eric Gale and Airto Moreira deliver sparkling contributions throughout, and Pee Wee Ellis deserves applause for his arranging and conducting.
Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky) (Atlantic, 1973)
This collaboration between Aretha Franklin and producer Quincy Jones was originally intended to be a straight-ahead jazz effort that recalled her Columbia LPs from the previous decade. Instead, it resulted in an odd mishmash that confused some fans. Nevertheless, a decades-long distance reveals soul-jazz jewels such as a stunning cover of “Moody’s Mood,” the sexy yet angst-ridden “Mister Spain” and the soul-stirring “Angel,” penned by the Queen of Soul’s sister Carolyn Franklin and Sonny Saunders.
Be Good (Motéma, 2012)
A modern-day classic that delivered on the promise of Gregory Porter’s 2010 debut, Water, and made him a bona fide star, Be Good mesmerizes not just with the power of his booming baritone voice but also through bracing originals such as “On My Way to Harlem,” “When Did You Learn” and the title track.
Nueva Era (Brownswood, 2015)
Nueva Era introduces a phenomenal 22-year-old Cuban singer, songwriter and pianist, whose husky, emotive voice soars across an enchanting sonic landscape populated with folkloric Afro-Cuban percussion, modern jazz intuition and soul-jazz pulsations. And her captivating melodies, lyrics and phrasing on “Come to Me” and “Don’t Unplug My Body” find rarefied links between Dianne Reeves and Teena Marie.