Alone Together is vocalist Catherine Russell’s seventh album, and with each release she seems to inhabit more fully a liminal space between past and present. Without indulging in sentimentality, she captures the spirit of the era out of which the pieces she sings emerged.
Part of the timeless yet vintage quality of her music flows from her fine-grained voice and a blues sensibility reminiscent of Dinah Washington and Helen Humes. And part of it is the company she keeps. On Alone Together she’s again joined by a nonpareil band featuring guitarist Matt Munisteri, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Tal Ronen, and drummer Mark McLean, essentially the same core of players who’ve been with her for the past decade. About half the tracks include tenor saxophonist Evan Arntzen, trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, and trombonist John Allred, who provide more texture and melodic counterpoint than propulsion.
What’s most striking about the album is its restraint, as if Russell is keeping a Ferrari in second gear. Opening with a magnificent version of the title track, she brings the same sense of discovery to familiar tunes like “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” and “How Deep Is the Ocean?” as she does to lesser-known fare such as the Jimmy Van Heusen/Eddie De Lange gem “Shake Down the Stars” and the hoary blues “He May Be Your Dog But He’s Wearing My Collar.” Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Russell jumped ship from her thriving career as a rock & roll backup singer only 15 years ago. Alone Together offers a welcome reminder that there’s no one else in jazz doing what she does, and that the scene would be immeasurably poorer without her.