The best vocal jazz release yet this year, Andy Bey’s “American Song” reconceives jazz standards in passionate new forms. Reinventing classics is no easy business, but Bey knows how to deliver a song with unadorned sincerity and a savvy sense of vocal improvisation.
Bey’s career followed the tragic pattern of Little Jimmy Scott: early recognition (first CD at the age of 13) and great musician support (recording with Hank Mobley, Max Roach and Horace Silver), only to sink into virtual anonymity. “American Song” should bring him back to a broader audience. His voice is out front; the band tight; the recording quality superb. On “Caravan,” his confident, husky baritone makes the image of passion in a desert caravan come alive. On “Satin Doll,” the tight, swinging band lets his sumptuous voice fully realize a “satin doll,” and then improvise along with the band.
At the end of “Speak Low,” perhaps the most affecting number, Bey improvises on the lyrics, “We’re late, darling, we’re late/The curtain descends/Everything ends/Too soon,” so passionately that it’s hard not to respond in chills.
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