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Nicolas Bearde: Invitation

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Where jazz intersects soul, there are few more satisfying stylists than Nicolas Bearde, a richly impressive amalgam of Bill Withers and Billy Eckstine. The Nashville-bred vocalist is now 20 years into a dual career, balancing solo dates and recordings, released on his own Right Groove label, with work in Bobby McFerrin’s various vocal ensembles. For his fifth release as leader, Bearde unites with producer, arranger and pianist Nat Adderley Jr. Though namesake of the late, great cornet player and nephew of the illustrious Cannonball, Nat Jr.’s achievements have steered closer to pop than jazz over the past four decades, and he remains best known for his longtime role as music director for Luther Vandross.

That pop sensibility invades all nine tracks; the arrangements are consistently silken, with occasional punchiness courtesy of Vincent Herring on alto saxophone. It is his creamiest album to date, with Bearde, rather ironically, inching closer to the lilt and timbre of Lou Rawls than on his previous release, a live tribute to Rawls. Still, across a stellar spectrum of standards-such gems as “Dindi,” “Lush Life,” “Nature Boy,” “Save Your Love for Me,” Eckstine’s satiny “I Want to Talk About You” and the cunningly noirish title track-Bearde’s interpretations are as affecting as they are elegant. None shines brighter than his penultimate selection (with Peter Horvath subbing for Adderley as producer and pianist), an augustly atmospheric navigation of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.”

Originally Published