Five Jazz Divas
Review by Willard Maus

So many splendid female jazz singers, so little space.

SOMI–-THE LAGOS MUSIC SALON. The American-born Somi investigates her African heritage in a new Okeh release which features the singer on 18 cuts. Inspired by a teaching job in Lagos, Nigeria, SOMI mixes many different styles and grooves–jazz,
Afro-pop, soul–-in painting a musical mosaic of modern Africa. The album even includes snippets of street talk, jokes and bureaucratic officiousness. Produced by Nigeria’s Cobhams Asuquo and New York’s Keith Witty, SOMI is without doubt one of the most unusual jazz CD’s of the year.

FREDA PAYNE–COME BACK TO ME MY LOVE. Payne has been singing since the 60s but sounds youthful and spirited on this new Mack Avenue/Artistry Music release. Fronting a big band led by Bill Cunliffe, Payne sings fourteen tunes, six of which were written by Gretchen C. Valade and Tom Robinson. The other eight include such standards as You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To and Midnight Sun. At times wailing and scatting, otther times going bluesy and sexy on torch songs like You Don’t Know and Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry, Payne shows just what a versatile singer she is, a jazz treasure.

CYRILLE AIMEE–IT’S A GOOD DAY. Detroit-based Mack Avenue has also thrown its resources behind Cyrille Aimee, a young jazz singer who recently won both the Montreux Jazz Festival’s Vocal Competition and the Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition. Aimee, who grew up in France but also has lived in Cameroon, Singapore, Dominican Republic and USA, exploits her influences on GOOD DAY, singing in two languages backed up by three guitarists (Jazz, Gypsy, Brazilian). The result is fresh-sounding and captivating, portending a bright future for this young diva.

CYNTHIA FELTON–-SAVE YOUR LOVE FOR ME. The soulful Felton pays tribute to one of her idols, Nancy Wilson, on this new release. Aided by such world-class musicians as Patricia Rushen, Jeff Clayton, Ernie Watts and John Beasley, Felton revisits eleven tunes associated with Wilson, including the title track plus Never Will I Marry and The Masquerade Is Over. Best of all is her stirring rendition of Wilson’s biggest hit, Guess Who I Saw Today.

KARLA HARRIS SINGS THE DAVE & IOLA BRUBECK SONGBOOK. Yes, kiddies, there really was a Brubeck songbook. Published some forty years ago, it contained dozens of songs that Dave and his wife had written, many for a little-known 60s musical called The Real
Ambassadors. Carmen McRae, back in 1961, recorded some of these songs in a live performance with the Brubeck Quartet, but that album’s been pretty much forgotten over the years. Now Harris, a fixture on the Pacific NW jazz scene, has given new life to
the Brubecks’ creative efforts. Iola, working off her husband’s complex, time-changing music, wrote most of the lyrics–-all of which are smart, sophisticated and touching. Harris proves the
ideal singer for this fiendishly difficult project; joined by sax player Bob Sheppard, drummer Dave Weckl and bassist Tom Kennedy, she shines on all eleven tunes, especially Take Five, Easy As You Go and Trav’lin Blues. No Brubeck devotee should be without this Summit Records release.