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Daryl Sherman: Johnny Mercer: A Centennial Tribute

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Six years ago, Arbors Records released Daryl Sherman’s centennial tribute to Richard Rodgers, A Hundred Million Miracles, with the focus, naturally, on the music. Ms Sherman is back with another loving tribute, this one concentrating on the witty, sophisticated words of Johnny Mercer. That says volumes about Daryl in matters of taste, curiosity and the willingness to explore the archives of the Great American Songbook — hallmarks of a dedicated cabaret singer. What makes Daryl Sherman unique is her jazz heritage: musical DNA that can be traced back to Blossom Dearie, Mabel Mercer and Mildred Bailey. Of course when you bring up DNA you can’t overlook her very early exposure to her dad, trombonist Sammy Sherman, who fronted a big band during that golden era, nor can you ignore the fact that Artie Shaw, when he unveiled his post-retirement orchestra in ’83, hired Daryl to be his band vocalist.

With this latest release, Sherman has strengthened her jazz credentials and widened her cabaret purview with 14 diverse tracks and outstanding jazz players: trombonist/singer Wycliffe Gordon; altoist Jerry Dodgion; guitarist/banjoist/arranger Howard Alden; bassist/singer Jay Leonhart; vibist/drummer Chuck Redd; and special piano guests Marion McPartland and Barbara Carroll.

Aside from the cool, straightahead, laid-back, plaintive, little-girl phrasing of Ms Sherman and her full-bodied, sparse, occasional stride of her self-accompaniment, there are plenty of high poionts. “Midnight Sun” underscores Sherman’s ability to handle wordy lyrics and tricky chromatic lines without sacrificing enunciation or pitch. Redd’s backing on vibes is a respectful “tip of the mallets” to its composer, Lionel Hampton. “Dream,” the only tune on the session that features Mercer’s words AND music, also features a tender backing by trombonist Gordon. Check his sly portamento on the final note. The bluesy “Lazzy Bones,” by Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael, is greatly enhanced by the Desmond-sounding Dodgion. Gordon’s sense of musical humor does as much for “Jeepers Creepers” as Daryl’s gentle stride. Wycliffe’s humor is also present on “The Bathtub Ran Over Again” as he reveals Satchmo’s guttural vocal sound and phrasing. Alden’s guitar frees Sherman from her keyboard for “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and the result is intimate and gorgeous, for both. The same can be said as Ms Carroll provides the backing for “I Thought About You” and the indestructible Ms McPartland, who accompanies Sherman on the Mercer-McPartland collaboration, “Twilight World.”

The most memorable track is a partnership between Mercer and Jimmy Rowles called “Little Ingenue,” a heart-tugging interpretation by Sherman that should make you treasure the many rare nuggets from the mine and mind of Mercer.

Originally Published