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Mary Foster Conklin: Photographs

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As Mary Foster Conklin explains to Terry Teachout in the liner notes, she not only enjoys being caught in the eternal push-pull of jazz and cabaret but is defined by it. Marrying the spontaneity of jazz to the storytelling verve of cabaret, she plainly states, “I need both to get the job done.” Though she has been a vibrant contributor to Manhattan’s music and theatre scenes for two decades, Photographs is only Conklin’s fourth album, arriving a full decade after Blues for Breakfast, her finely crafted tribute to fellow jazz-cabaret hybrid Matt Dennis.

Fronting a stellar septet anchored by pianist-arranger John di Martino, Conklin carves a wide musical path. She wraps her smoky mezzo-soprano around works by Joni Mitchell (“Night and the City”), Oscar Brown Jr. (“Long as You’re Living”), Benny Carter (“Key Largo”) and Lennon and McCartney (a noirish “For No One,” featuring Houston Person on tenor saxophone). Johnny Mandel’s sultry “Cinnamon and Clove,” an obscure show tune (the shimmering “Night Song,” from Golden Boy) and two sturdy standards, “Moonglow” and “Autumn Serenade,” also figure into the eclectic mix.

But the album’s cornerstone is hipster poet-lyricist Fran Landesman, about whom Conklin recently shaped the tribute show Life Is a Bitch. Alongside the familiar “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” she includes the wistful Landesman-Alec Wilder title track and a trio of gems written with Bob Dorough: the exultant “Nothing Like You,” desirous “The Winds of Heaven” and wonderfully sly “Small Day Tomorrow.”

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