It’s been almost 15 years since the release of Vicki Burns’ last CD, and judging by Lotus Blossom Days, her third album, she’s been putting her time to good use. The New York vocalist hasn’t just documented a consistently interesting program delivered with rhythmic acuity and abundant imagination. She’s recorded an album that feels like it’s part of a larger conversation.
Her stellar band includes pianist Art Hirahara and bassist Sam Bevan, who both, like Burns, spent significant time on the Bay Area jazz scene. Veteran drummer Billy Drummond, an invaluable asset in any musical situation, minds the dynamic flow with abundant sensitivity, while half the tracks feature one or two horns. Working closely with Bevan, who co-produced the album and arranged eight of the album’s 12 tracks, Burns plugs into the jazz vocalist zeitgeist, a connection evident from the snappy first track, “If You Never Fall in Love with Me.” A Sam Jones tune, it took on new life in the early 1960s when Carmen McRae and Ernie Andrews recorded the song with Donald Wolf’s lyrics. Long obscure, it’s resurfaced in recent years with a vengeance, regularly performed by Samara Joy and Mark Christian Miller (who also used the song to kick off his new album Music in the Air).
Burns contributes two strong originals, including “Siren Song,” her 2005 debut album’s aptly titled title track. Effective at languorous tempos, she interprets three American Songbook classics with due deliberation, including Bernice Petkere’s “Close Your Eyes” and the Arlen/Mercer closer, “Out of This World.” But it’s her hat tips to fellow singers—like Tessa Souter’s alluring “You Don’t Have to Believe” and Carol Sloane and Roger Schore’s lyrics for Billy Strayhorn’s exquisite title track—that shine brightest. Burns’ work stands on its own, but she’s keeping some fine company.