Diane Witherspoon: You May Never Know

Recorded in 1991 but just released, this ambitious project seamlessly fuses the talents of composer-pianist Cedar Walton, sibling lyricists John and Paula Hackett, and singer Diane Witherspoon. The Hacketts succeed in carrying off the daunting task of setting words to nine Walton pieces originally conceived and recorded as instrumentals. Despite the occasional flat line and forced rhyme, their lyrics dovetail with Walton’s challenging melodies and develop some intriguing poetic conceits. Unsurprisingly, Walton’s keyboard backing and improvisations are compelling, but Witherspoon deserves the lion’s share of credit for the album’s effectiveness. The supple-voiced vocalist effortlessly negotiates Walton’s tricky intervals and complex time signatures while intelligently and affectingly expressing the Hacketts’ ideas and emotions. Jazz singers in search of fresh material should seek out You May Never Know, as should listeners looking for unheralded vocal talents. Let’s hope that Witherspoon won’t have to wait eight more years for her next recording.