Deborah Pearl - Souvenir Of You
Review by Willard Manus

This remarkable CD was put together by the multi-talented Deborah Pearl, who is not only a top TV & screenwriter (Designing Women, Waiting For Yvette) but an accomplished singer and songwriter. Pearl was also friendly with the late jazz legend Benny Carter and his wife Hilma, who served as surrogate parents to her when she moved to L.A. from New York two decades ago.

Now Pearl has paid tribute to the Carters by putting lyrics to thirteen instrumental tunes written by Benny before his death in 2003. On two of those numbers, Pearl has mixed Benny's alto sax solos on two previous big-band albums, Harlem Renaissance and Tales of the Rising Sun Suite, with the sound of her own trio. The result is something akin to what Natalie Cole did with the music of her late father, Nat King Cole.

SOUVENIR OF YOU kicks off with a jaunty, toe-tappin' version of Happy Feet, with Pearl singing and scatting up a storm. Two warm, sweet ballads follow, Wonderland and People Time (one of Benny's best-known tunes). Speedy and witty wordplay comes next in Doozy Blues, with Pearl showing off her slow-drag chops on Sunday Morning Comes and Scattin' Back to Harlem.

Pearl's original lyrics on these and other tracks are remarkably fresh and sophisticated, matched only by the virtuosity of her lovely, far-ranging voice, exquisite phrasing and timing. Pearl outdoes herself on the CD's last two numbers, the love song Benny wrote for Hilma, Sky Dance For Two, and the tribute he dedicated to the memory of his friend and fellow horn man, Johnny Hodges, Souvenir of You. On the latter, Pearl turns the latter tune into an elegy for Benny Carter himself: "Time takes our verses away, but melodies live on. Forever playing your song at heaven's door, and here a souvenir of you."

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