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Tony Cimorosi & Saundra Silliman: Duotones

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Saundra Silliman may be the best-kept secret in jazz. As both a vocalist and actress, she’s been gigging around New York since the mid-1980s and has performed with the likes of Herbie Hancock and Lonnie Plaxico. But apart from a few MP3s on her outdated website, this brief (eight tracks spanning just 30 minutes) union with seasoned bassist Tony Cimorosi seems to represent her debut album.

With Cimorosi opting for elegant but decidedly low-key accompaniment, Silliman is exposed in the spotlight, but she is fully up to the challenge. Her voice suggests the richness of Sarah Vaughan tempered by the charming modesty of Maxine Sullivan. Her phrasing is as crystalline as Nancy Wilson’s.

The program is an intriguing one, with Silliman gently poking into corners both dark and light while mixing dusty standards with more contemporary covers. Her laidback, ruminative style is ideally and equally suited to the silken moralizing of Sting’s “Fragile,” the arid loneliness of “Slow Hot Wind” and the indigo regret of “Key Largo.” She also deftly navigates more complex narratives, including the everyman yin-yang of the Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go Round” and bittersweet idolization of Mingus and Joni Mitchell’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” Interpretively speaking, Silliman falters only once: On “Autumn in New York,” a song that demands mink-lined enchantment, she is oddly somber, more world-weary than exhilarated.

Originally Published