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Catherine Russell: Send for Me (Dot Time)

A review of the vocalist's eighth recording

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Catherine Russell: Send for Me (Dot Time)
The cover of Send for Me by Catherine Russell

Any artist who consistently bestows joy and pleasure is someone to treasure. Thankfully, Catherine Russell has been releasing albums on the regular since her 2006 debut Cat, and the timeless vocalist’s eighth recording expands her delectable songbook with material often plucked from her illustrious family tree. Just about every track comes with a story connecting the material to her father, the great Panamanian-born pianist/bandleader Luis Russell, or her mother, the veteran Juilliard-trained bassist/guitarist/vocalist Carline Rae. The branch might be thin—the declarative blues “Send for Me” was written by Ollie Jones, whose R&B combo the Ravens performed alongside Luis Russell’s big band—but Russell’s voluptuous voice makes the Nat “King” Cole hit her own.

There are a few well-worn standards, including sprightly versions of “East of the Sun” (with the lovely verse) and “You Stepped Out of a Dream” (both arranged by ace guitarist Matt Munisteri, her longtime guitarist and music director). But the album’s standouts are off-the-beaten tracks like Jon-Erik Kelso’s arrangement of “Sticks and Stones,” a piece Russell discovered on a 1937 recording by Henry “Red” Allen (who was in Louis Armstrong’s orchestra, led by her father, at the time). There’s no family tie to Earl King’s “You Can Fly High,” a rollicking, tambourine-shaking, horn-laden arrangement by Kelso, though Russell is always ready to assert a jazz artist’s claim to New Orleans bloodlines.

If there’s one area where she sounds more confident than ever, it’s on the simmering ballads. Russell bathes in the erotic languor of “Make It Last,” a Mark Lopeman arrangement inspired by Melba Liston’s original chart for Betty Carter. The tenor saxophonist also arranged the tormented “In the Night,” a song Russell gleaned from Dakota Staton. Tinged with masochism, it’s an old-fashioned lament that Russell imbues with aching immediacy.

Learn more about Send for Me at Amazon!


JT Video Premiere: “Make It Last” by Catherine Russell

Andrew Gilbert

Andrew Gilbert is a Berkeley-based freelancer who has written about arts and culture since 1989 for numerous publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, East Bay Express, Berkeleyside, and KQED’s California Report. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he experienced a series of mind-blowing epiphanies listening to jazz masters at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in the late 1980s, performances he remembers more vividly than the gigs he saw last month.