If La Tanya Hall’s second album sounds far more poised, polished, and, well, accomplished than the typical sophomore release, it’s because she’s a well-traveled artist who’s spent years touring and recording with acts ranging from Harry Belafonte and Diana Ross to Steely Dan and Michael Feinstein. The New York vocalist hasn’t been biding her time since her acclaimed 2008 debut album It’s About Time, and her new project isn’t a comeback as much as the continuation of a conversation that’s taken numerous detours.
Opening with Nat Adderley’s “All You Need to Say,” Say Yes covers a lot of ground. (Strangely, the credits neglect many of the lyricists, like Chris Caldwell, who wrote the words for Nat’s instrumental “Never Say Yes,” as introduced by the great Karrin Allyson.) Pianist Andy Milne produced the album and leads Unison, the consummate accompanying ensemble with bassist John Hébert and drummer Clarence Penn. He also wrote all the arrangements, which are expertly designed to give Hall plenty of space. The more she has the higher she flies, as on a riveting bass-only arrangement of “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” where Hébert’s agile line threads the tightrope for Hall to traverse. Another highlight is the pairing of Monk’s “Pannonica” with Dizzy’s “Con Alma,” a gracefully melded medley that feels utterly natural.
Part of what makes the album so fascinating is the way it offers alternating glimpses of Hall’s various musical personas. She’s wounded and confessional on Jonatha Brooke’s “Because I Told You So,” coolly observant on an exquisite “Poor Butterfly,” and quietly besotted on “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” (which she introduces by reciting a Pablo Neruda verse). Hall and Milne never work hard to sell the material; they inexorably draw you into the songs and reveal something new. It’s the kind of invitation to which one should always say yes.
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