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Jenna Mammina & Rolf Sturm: Begin to Dance (Water Street)

Review of album by vocal and guitar duo

Album cover from Jenna Mammina and Rolf Sturm
Jenna Mammina & Rolf Sturm’s “Begin to Dance” album cover

Established more than two decades ago, the union of vocalist Jenna Mammina and guitarist Rolf Sturm finally bore fruit two years ago with the eclectic, sweetly satisfying Spark. This welcome re-teaming proves equally diverse, mellow and sublime. Sturm, mentored by such jazz masters as Joe Pass, Bill Frisell and Jim Hall but as richly steeped in folk, rock and country, exudes a subtle imagination, an understated authority that is, to borrow an oft-quoted description of Lou Rawls, “sweet as sugar, soft as velvet, strong as steel, smooth as butter.” Mammina, with her fluid pop-jazz-country sensibility, blends strong hints of Cyndi Lauper and Dolly Parton with the coy insouciance of Blossom Dearie.

Though their 15-track playlist includes jazz standards, among them a dreamy “Dancing on the Ceiling” and a wistful “All My Tomorrows,” they share a special bent for reimagining more contemporary pop hits. Associated with both the easy lope of B.J. Thomas and the hammering of Blue Swede, “Hooked on a Feeling” comes wrapped in silk and is cleverly combined with Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me,” Michael Johnson’s “Bluer Than Blue” and George Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” are likewise snugly cocooned. The Dead get their due with a lithe “Crazy Fingers,” while the urgency of the Doobie Brothers’ “Takin’ It to the Streets” is superbly transfigured. Rounding out the wide-ranging assortment are two Sturm originals, his gently yearning “We Hesitate” and the self-affirming title track.

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