Amid the ever-expanding sea of jazz vocalists, there’s nothing strikingly distinctive about Stevie Holland’s voice, and yet her assets are considerable: beautiful clarity of tone, immaculate phrasing and an excellent sense of time. She makes the most of what she’s got, surrounding herself with solid session mates including pianist Randy Ingram, bassist Peter Brendler, drummer Jeff Davis and trumpeter Nicholas Payton.
And in Gary William Friedman, she’s found an arranger who knows how to ideally frame her with unfussy, liquid charts. Shaping lyrics to Friedman’s music, she’s also a deft lyricist.
Perhaps most important, she appreciates how to make the familiar freshly engaging. The world hardly needs an umpteenth rendering of “Tea for Two.” But Holland, with a bit of lyrical assistance from Joe Mooney, winningly transforms the tired chestnut into a smartly cosmopolitan midtempo swinger. Her dreamy, almost ethereal treatment of “Out of This World” takes the Arlen-Mercer classic a step beyond most readings, lending its theme of love fulfilled a hint of mutability. And she varies her playlists with some unexpected additions, including “Another Grey Morning,” James Taylor’s powerful reflection on his battle with depression, and its polar opposite, the cleverly romantic Sigmund Romberg-Dorothy Fields rarity “April Snow.”
As for the originals, “Tomorrow’s Looking Brighter Today” is a Frishberg-esque charmer, while the title track suggests the quiet grandeur of Michel Legrand. Best, though, is the Payton-propelled “Never,” an ode to soulmate satisfaction that, in its deceptive simplicity, is tremendously moving.