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Jacqui Naylor & Art Khu: Q&A (Ruby Star)

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Vocalist Jacqui Naylor and pianist/guitarist Art Khu represent one of the most compelling, if underappreciated, partnerships in jazz. To date, however, Naylor and Khu have typically performed and recorded as part of a quartet, often alongside bassist Jon Evans and drummer-percussionist Josh Jones. At last, they deliver their first album à deux. Nor is the quartet all they’ve abandoned for Q&A: Also gone is their trademark “acoustic smashing,” the intricate layering of a pop or rock tune atop a jazz standard.

Clever as their genre-mashing concoctions are, it’s refreshing to hear Naylor and Khu in the raw—just the cozy, intimate pairing of her Amy Winehouse-meets-Pearl Bailey sound and his elegantly informed playing. To fill the album’s 13 tracks, they stick mostly to standards—a gently ebullient “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” slinky “Charade,” dreamy “Once Upon a Summertime,” tender “Secret Love” and such. And though Naylor and Khu do invade rock’s annals, they choose from the balladic end of the spectrum, covering the warmly romantic Extreme hit “More Than Words.”

One thing that hasn’t changed—the sharpness of Naylor and Khu’s songwriting skills. Aptly, they add two originals that celebrate togetherness: the bouncy “This Is How It Starts,” tallying the joys of a new relationship, and the misty “Here We Are at Last,” reflecting on enduring unions.

Originally Published