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Ernestine Anderson: Swings the Penthouse

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While Ernestine Anderson can, at 86, claim a recording career that spans six decades, there is a sizable hole stretching from 1963 to 1976. Anderson’s work pre- and post-gap sounds markedly different. By the time of her professional resuscitation by Concord Records’ Carl Jefferson in the 1970s, her voice had grown deeper, her style mellower. Those years netted her four Grammy nods and more than two-dozen albums (including later sessions for Quincy Jones’ Qwest label and, most recently, at HighNote).

Largely defined by five albums for Mercury, her output prior to ’63 was much leaner. Her sound was earthier and sultrier, a satisfying mélange of Etta James and Nancy Wilson. Anderson never recorded live back then, which makes these newly discovered tracks-captured in Anderson’s adopted hometown of Seattle across three dates in 1962-such a treasure.

Onstage with the club’s estimable house trio anchored by pianist Dick Palombi, freed from the overcooked arrangements Mercury favored, she is in exceptional form. As on her albums of the day, she alternates between midtempo swing (cutting looser on sizzling readings of “Just in Time” and “There Will Never Be Another You”) and creamy ballads. Remarkably, the 13-track, all-standards playlist mostly comprises tunes she’d never recorded, including a superbly crafted “Gone With the Wind” and deliciously sly “Honeysuckle Rose.” Kudos, too, to HighNote for the exceptional sound quality, as crisp and clear as anything Anderson ever shaped in the studio.

Originally Published