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Andy Bey: Pages From an Imaginary Life

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Producer Joe Fields has always been a fine developer of jazz talent. But his greatest gift may be in crafting career renaissances for established yet stalled artists. He did it with Mark Murphy in the 1970s and ’80s, shaping a string of masterpieces for his Muse label. On his Savant and HighNote labels, Fields has since done the same for Mary Stallings, Sheila Jordan, Barbara Morrison and Freddy Cole. (And that’s just the singers.)

As potentially epic as his revitalization of Murphy are Fields’ recent sessions

with Andy Bey. Appreciating that the septuagenarian vocalist and pianist is best served in minimalist settings, last year Fields helped shape the finest album of Bey’s career, the stellar solo outing The World According to Andy Bey. Fields and Bey stay true to the same redoubtable formula across these 15 tracks.

The playlist is divided into four “pages,” each tracing a romantic or philosophic arc built around standards augmented by one Bey original. Bey’s once-mighty four-octave voice has diminished to ash; or, more accurately, platinum dust. Phrase for phrase, he now packs a bruised emotional wallop rivaled only by Billie Holiday. They share an incomparably noble vulnerability. Never has “Good Morning Heartache” sounded so gorgeously despondent (or, at least, not since Holiday), nor “My Foolish Heart” or “Everything I Have Is Yours” more tenderly blissful. Bravo, too, to Bey for unearthing Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s cunning survivalist anthem “Dog Eat Dog,” from the failed musical Saratoga. The new compositions are equally satisfying, extending from the dark jaggedness of “Jealousy” to the hard-earned wisdom of “Humor Keeps Us Alive” and “Bad Luck May Be Good Luck.” As for Bey’s playing, it is exquisite, suggesting a melding of Keith Jarrett and Oscar Peterson.

Originally Published