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Georgie Fame: Poet in New York

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It’s difficult to explain why English singer-songwriter-keyboardist-arranger Georgie Fame isn’t regarded as a topflight male jazz vocalist: he’s easily the peer of Mark Murphy and Kurt Elling. This lavishly gifted musician’s two excellent 1999 Go Jazz CDs, Name Droppin’ and Walking Wounded, passed virtually unnoticed. Could it be that the success of his ’60s pop hits “Yeh Yeh” and “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” has caused the jazz community to shun him? If so, perhaps Poet in New York, Fame’s latest and finest jazz-oriented album, will open closed minds and ears.

Backed by a first-rate quartet-pianist David Hazeltine, saxophonist Bob Malach, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Louis Hayes-Fame breezes through an exacting repertoire of jazz compositions. He shakes the dust off “Lush Life,” “Doodlin'” and “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid,” and outfits a trio of splendid Tadd Dameron pieces-“That’s the Way It Goes,” “Accentuate the Bass” and the exquisite “On a Misty Night”-with his own thoughtful lyrics.

He also finds apposite words for three vocalese versions of canorous Chet Baker solos: “But Not for Me,” “Do It the Hard Way” and “It Could Happen to You.” Two melodic Fame originals, “Declaration of My Love” and “Tuned in to You” (a tribute to composer-saxophonist Benny Golson) and the Neil Hefti “Girl Talk” (with a new, nonsexist lyric by producer Ben Sidran), complete one of the most creative vocal jazz collections in recent memory.

With his appealing sound, bulls-eye pitch and infallible sense of swing, Fame smoothly negotiates a series of musical and verbal challenges that would ground all but his most accomplished contemporaries. In an era of numbing, sound-alike jazz-vocal albums, Poet in New York delivers the goods.