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Shirley Horn: Loving You

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Even after all this time, Shirley Horn’s paradoxical strengths continue to amaze. Her power lies in a vocal style so effortless, so natural, that it often hovers somewhere between singing and talking. The voice itself-soft, small, and indomitable-resembles a slightly built kick-boxer, in that you wouldn’t expect either of them to pack such a wallop; she also relies on her deft skills at the piano, which she treats as an equal partner in an elegant yet energetic pas de deux.

Horn has received a seemingly endless string of accolades for this artistry, and her challenge as a recording artist lies in finding different ways to present her now familiar gifts. Thus, each of her eight previous albums for Verve has displayed a unifying concept that prevents it from being “just another” Shirley Horn album. (A single orchid is an exceptional thing; in a hothouse full of them, it risks becoming “just another” flower.) Into this context comes Loving You, an album of love songs, released the week of Valentine’s Day. Of course, nearly every Shirley Horn album is an album of love songs, thanks to the languorous intimacy of her vocals and the irresistible slow dance of her tempos; but this one, unlike The Main Ingredient (her 1996 swinger) or the previous Light Out of Darkness (Horn’s tribute to Ray Charles), features only material devoted to eros. It includes some instant classics: the deep-tissue massage of the vintage blues tune “In The Dark,” quarter-speed versions of the standard “Kiss And Run” and the relatively obscure “All Of A Sudden My Heart Sings.” It also includes a couple of questionable choices: two songs by Brazilian composer Ivan Lins, “Love Dance” and “The Island,” both so over-recorded that not even Horn can add much to them at this point.

Unlike some of Horn’s other Verve dates, Loving You doesn’t have big-name guest soloists; it depends instead on Horn’s longstanding trio, augmented by percussionist Alex Acuna and “MIDI orchestrations” (synthesizer textures) supplied by George Mesterhazy. Tasteful and discreet, these don’t offend as much as you’d fear, but they don’t add much, either; they primarily serve to lower the lights and plump the cushions just a little more than Horn’s purred inflections do on their own.