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Ian Shaw: Drawn to All Things

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Even if I didn’t adore the way he sings, I’d be hard pressed not to like Ian Shaw. Praised far and wide as the single greatest male jazz vocalist the United Kingdom has to offer, he remains self-effacing (particularly about his past recording accomplishments), sardonic, frankly outspoken, deliciously witty and wonderfully wise.

Now, newly signed to Linn Records, the Welshman who accurately and admirably praises Jamie Cullum for setting jazz singing free from its “dinner jacket” mold is venturing where even the boldest rarely go by serving up an entire platter of Joni Mitchell covers. Apart from a richly contented “Chelsea Morning” and a satin-lined “Both Sides Now,” don’t go looking for “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Help Me,” “Free Man in Paris” or other of the inimitable Canadian singer-songwriter’s most recognizable tunes.

Instead, with his bracing blend of Mark Murphy smarts, Johnny Hartman smoothness and Mel Tormé bravado, Shaw sticks primarily to the Mitchell road less traveled by lovingly, tenderly examining the intricate subtleties and vivid brushstrokes of such wondrous word paintings as “Edith and the Kingpin,” “Barangrill,” “Moon at the Window,” “Harlem in Havana” and “Night Ride Home” (the latter teaming him with his female British equal, Clare Teal). Does he succeed? Suffice it to say that as a fellow Canuck who’s been following Mitchell since her Yorkville coffeehouse days, I always felt that the way she handled her own material was the only way it could be properly interpreted, and none of the pop or jazz vocalists who’ve since tackled Mitchell tracks have shaken my belief. Until now.