6 Jazz Singers Worth A Listen

SASHA DOBSON

MODERN ROMANCE

Like many young jazz singers nowadays, Dobson, 26, is trying for a mellow pop-jazz groove à la Norah Jones. Her plangent, almost vibrato-free voice rides over a mélange of island rhythms, bossa nova and folky acoustics, mostly in new songs she has co-written. They go down as easily as frozen margaritas, never more beguilingly than when she slips in scat syllables like "dit-doo, die-yah-da-doo" in Four Leaf Clover, or simply "ooh-ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh" in Cold to Colder.

JOHN PIZZARELLI

DEAR MR. SINATRA

Yet another Frank Sinatra tribute? Yes, but on this one, singer-guitarist Pizzarelli makes no attempt to evoke the master's sound or mannerisms. A good thing too, since his light, cool voice carries little of Sinatra's sensuality and swagger. Resourcefully backed by the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra (at times cut down to nifty combos), Pizzarelli is at his best in hip readings of the insouciant Yes Sir, That's My Baby, the wistful If I Had You and even the trademark Ring a Ding Ding.

PATRICIA BARBER

MYTHOLOGIES

Jazz musicians have taken inspiration from the classics before, but surely songwriter-singer-pianist Barber is the first to base a song cycle on Ovid's Metamorphoses. Her Pygmalion is sweetly yearning, her Persephone sexy over a Latin beat. In the hard-edged Whiteworld/Oedipus, the Greek King is an arrogant white imperialist in the Third World. These intricate, ruminative works are a long way from the blues in B flat--and they're worth the stretch.

DR. JOHN

MERCERNARY

Dr. John, the New Orleans character extraordinaire, sings what are billed as the songs of Johnny Mercer. Actually they're mostly other composers' tunes with lyrics by Mercer--and there's the rub. Dr. John is a master of the funky mumble, his vowels brayed and bent, his consonants missing in action. Still, these R&B-flavored, gutbucket tracks catch the Mercer spirit if not always the letters. Concedes Dr. John in an original: "For better or worser,/ I ain't no Johnny Mercer." But he'll do.

NANCY WILSON

TURNED TO BLUE

It's been a long career for the polished Wilson, whose first albums appeared in the 1960s, and she faces that truth head-on in such numbers as These Golden Years and I Don't Remember Ever Growing Up. Shorter breathed these days, she can still summon a warm, rich sound and vividly tell a song's story. With a big band behind her in Taking a Chance on Love, she also shows there's plenty of fire in her autumnal mood.

MADELEINE PEYROUX

HALF THE PERFECT WORLD

The formula is unchanged from Peyroux's previous albums: a few chugging, countrified originals, a French café song and the rest standards and contemporary folk-rock. But who's complaining? One might wish Peyroux would go full throttle more often, but there's no arguing with her sly, teasing rhythm on originals like I'm All Right or the aching conviction she brings to ballads like Joni Mitchell's River (a duet with k.d. lang). If this is sameness, let's have more of it.

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