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Cynthia Felton: Freedom Jazz Dance

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Cynthia Felton’s four-octave range and keen jazz instincts could easily sustain a solid recording career. But she is far too intrepid and dexterous a musical explorer to restrict her role to mere vocal brilliance. Felton’s previous albums navigated the Oscar Brown Jr. and Duke Ellington songbooks. For her third session as leader, she widens her net, mixing Tin Pan Alley classics and sturdy jazz standards with an unexpected surprise or two, including Deee-Lite’s “My Love Is” re-imagined as a mid-tempo swinger and Mingus’ “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” rendered as a contented reverie.

True to her courageous spirit, Felton isn’t satisfied with a limited assortment of accompanists. Freedom Jazz Dance showcases no fewer than 19 musicians in various combinations across its 12 tracks. As the album’s sole producer and arranger, Felton’s obvious intent, unfailingly realized, is to create a dozen distinct musical canvases, each requiring its own blend of styles and colors. Though the title refers to the Eddie Harris/Eddie Jefferson masterpiece, an exuberant interpretation of which closes the album, it also connotes the tremendous latitude Felton provides her many outstanding guests. There is, for instance, her breezy “Better Than Anything,” bookended by contrasting takes on “Killer Joe” by trumpeter Nolan Shaheed and propelled by a lithe Cyrus Chestnut piano solo, and her richly variegated “Close Your Eyes,” masterfully defined by bassist Tony Dumas-just two of myriad examples, with the likes of Terri Lyne Carrington, Lorca Hart, Wallace Roney and Robert Hurst all adding vibrant hues.

Originally Published