Catherine Russell: Harlem on My Mind

If there’s a postmillennial answer to Dinah Washington, surely it’s Catherine Russell: same remarkable vocal dexterity-blues shouter meets jazz stylist; same espresso-strength power; same immaculate clarity; same ability to shift seamlessly from sassy to torchy. Russell has, across previous albums, liberally exercised her predilection for vintage material, though never as deliberately as here. The main theme is tunes you’d have heard throughout Harlem when the likes of Ida Cox and Bessie Smith ruled the musical roost.

Several selections-“You’re My Thrill,” “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me,” “The Very Thought of You” and “Don’t Take Your Love From Me”-were as popular south of 110th Street as they were north, and remain cornerstones of the standards songbook. Others are of their time and place: Irving Berlin’s playfully wistful title track, the sizzling “Swing! Brother, Swing!,” Fats Waller and Andy Razaf’s “Blue Turning Grey Over You” and the winking “You’ve Got the Right Key But the Wrong Keyhole.”

Toward album’s end Russell briefly shifts eras, landing in Dinah’s sweet spot, the 1950s, for a doo-wop treatment of Little Willie John’s “Talk to Me” and a gorgeously soulful “Let Me Be the First to Know” (co-written by Washington). Throughout, Russell’s longstanding rhythm section-musical director/guitarist/banjoist Matt Munisteri, pianist Mark Shane, drummer Mark McLean and bassist Tal Ronen-provides keenly simpatico accompaniment. On five tracks, backing expands to a horn-lined tentet that may not swing as tightly as Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven, but comes pretty darn close.

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