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Carolyn Leonhart/Wayne Escoffery: Tides of Yesterday

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That Carolyn Leonhart can hold her own as a superlative vocalist is undeniable. Indeed, she demonstrated so a couple of years back on Chances Are, her sweet, gentle tribute to underappreciated composer Robert Allen, and on her hard-to-find, Japan-only release, Autumn in New York, from 2003. But Leonhart’s vocal prowess is, as has been the case on two previous albums, exponentially increased when she is paired with her equally gifted saxophonist husband, Wayne Escoffery.

The pair opens with “Better Next Time.” Not to be confused with Irving Berlin’s melancholy “Better Luck Next Time,” this familial effort (written by Escoffery and Leonhart with her brother Michael) is a thoughtful excavation of tough lessons learned. Four standards follow, including a cleverly conceived “The Sweetest Sounds” that unfolds like an interior monologue; a pensive “Never Never Land” as unhurried as a slow-passing cloud; a tranquilly gratified “Sometimes I’m Happy”; and, most ingeniously, a seemingly snowbound “You Must Believe in Spring” that, for once, appreciates how the song speaks to the promise of spring.

Exceptional as all four are, they pale in comparison to the album’s latter half, where Leonhart plays seductress to Escoffery’s sorcerer on a gauzy, near-Eastern treatment of Mingus’ “Eclipse”; sax and voice swap wails on a dense, bluesy reading of Donald Fagen’s “Big Noise, New York”; the couple boards the express train of Leonhart’s romantically urgent “Straight to You (Baloo Baloo)”; and they finish with a vibrantly abstract treatment of Lee Morgan’s “Infinity.”

Originally Published