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Sari Kessler: Do Right

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Describing vocalist Sari Kessler’s debut album as “simply beautiful” is a literal evaluation. Unlike too many eager-to-dazzle neophytes, Kessler maintains a welcome less-is-more approach that emphasizes the purity of her tone, with its enticing hint of duskiness, and the immaculate quality of her phrasing. (She has learned well from mentor Kate McGarry, the disc’s co-producer.) Kessler, who abandoned a thriving career as a clinical psychologist to pursue jazz fulltime, spent two years polishing and perfecting the covers that fill 11 of Do Right’s dozen tracks. Along the way, she assembled a crackerjack team: producer and principal arranger James Shipp (also percussionist on four selections), with additional charts from Randy Porter; pianist John di Martino; guitarist Ron Affif; bassist Steve Whipple; drummer Willard Dyson; special guest Houston Person, who adds bespoke tenor-sax trimming to three tracks; and fellow up-and-comer Nadje Noordhuis on trumpet and flugelhorn, ushering in the opener, a perfectly overcast “Walk on By,” and returning twice more.

That Kessler and company can so elegantly concoct fresh ways to interpret such overly familiar tunes as “Sunny,” “It’s a Wonderful World,” “Moonglow,” “Too Close for Comfort,” “After You’ve Gone,” “The Frim Fram Sauce” and “Feeling Good” is accomplishment enough. The addition of a peerless adaptation of Ellington’s lesser-known “The Gal From Joe’s,” its melancholy masterfully etched by di Martino, and Kessler’s own doleful “My Empty Bed Blues” cements her status as a vital new voice.

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