LaVerne Butler: Love Lost and Found Again

A full decade has passed since LaVerne Butler’s previous album, yet her voice remains impeccably beautiful, her phrasing still pristine and her tone invitingly warm. Also intact, however, is her nagging lack of interpretive imagination. Like the MaxJazz platters that preceded it, Love Lost and Found Again vocally suggests cocktail-hour pleasantness-pretty but innocuous.

In the past, Butler has shaded her playlists with a smattering of sharply written originals. Here she opts for all standards, sustaining the mellow mood by favoring easygoing chestnuts like “Be a Sweet Pumpkin,” “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star,” “That’s All,” “Be Anything (But Be Mine)” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lilting “In My Own Little Corner,” from Cinderella. Even when the fare gets meatier, with “The Bluest Blues” (done call-and-response-style with a remarkably lifeless male chorus) and “I’ll Never Be Free,” Butler remains placid and pure. And she completely sidesteps the heartache that propels “Trav’lin’ Light.”

The arrangements, all shaped by pianist Bruce Barth, who produced and arranged both of Butler’s MaxJazz efforts, are equally elegant and bright, and similarly circumspect. There’s no coloring outside the lines here; until, that is, Houston Person arrives with his tenor to add a welcome kick to seven of the 11 tracks. Person is a refreshing insurgent among peaceniks, the gin that enlivens an otherwise insipid tonic.