Fay Claassen: Sing!

Last year, Dutch vocalist Fay Claassen and arranger Michael Abene practiced the musical voodoo that they do so well across 11 Cole Porter tunes. Now the dynamic duo is back, this time paying vibrant tribute to a spectrum of female singers stretching from Ella to Björk.

For the Porter set, it was just Claassen and a three-member rhythm section. For Sing! the personnel includes more than 100, with pianist Frank Chastenier, bassist John Goldsby, guitarist Paul Shigihara and drummer Hans Dekker (the sole holdover from the Porter album) augmented by the WDR Big Band Cologne and WDR Rundfunkorchester, all conducted by Abene. It might be expected, due to the population explosion, that Abene’s arrangements would take fewer twists and turns, yet they remain masterfully dynamic. Again, Claassen hugs Abene’s curves like a kunstbahn luger, riding bop and scat lines with rare expertise and confirming the obvious: that she remains one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, preeminent stylists.

As for the dozen tracks, praising one over another is a fool’s gambit. From the sassy swing of Betty Carter’s “Tight” to the sax-driven bounce of Joni Mitchell’s “Be Cool” and dense majesty of Miriam Makeba’s “Umhome,” each is a distinctly, ideally shaped gem. It is, though, fair to suggest that Abene’s incomparable re-harmonization skills reach a new peak on a dazzlingly deconstructed “Tea for Two” that honoree Anita O’Day would have enthusiastically applauded.