Tina May – Divas
(Hep CD2099. CD review by Peter Vacher)
This new album by one of Britain’s most intriguing jazz singers exudes class from every pore. Set aside the quality of the songs Ms May has chosen or the arrangements and instrumentalists that support her and take a look at its presentation, for starters. From the coloured board digi-pack to the erudite liner essay by Dave Gelly, to the photography of Dick Hammett and Adrian Korsner plus the attention devoted to the sound engineering and the efforts of multi-reedman/arranger Frank Griffith and the band, and it’s clear that producer Alastair Robertson has pulled out all the stops to make this an album to remember.
The Divas of its title are the singers who first made something of the songs picked by Tina. Happily she feels no need to replicate their interpretations but rather to re-think the songs with Griffith’s help, in often unusual ways. Leading off with ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’ inevitably brings Peggy Lee to mind, but she didn’t have the benefit of Frank’s limpid clarinet or Adrian Fry’s admirably lucid trombone solo. I like the way the arrangement cushions Tina’s rather louche vocal before ‘There’s a Lull In My Life’, Tina at her lilting best, with Frank’s slinky tenor heard ahead of ‘Forgetful’, romantic and slow, with guitarist Dave Cliff the main supportive voice. ‘Let’s Get Lost’ is quicker than Chet Baker’s versions and if Tina’s edgier phrases hint at Carmen McRae’s astringency, then Freddy Gavita’s flugel is nearer to Chet’s moody sound.
Twelve songs, varied in mood and execution, Tina’s range and actor-like expressiveness allowing her to handle a swinger like ‘Can’t Get Out of This Mood’ with jazzy aplomb, as she trades phrases with the muted Fry, and then to relax on something like ‘When The World Was Young’, with John Pearce’s sublime piano solo and more of that ethereal clarinet.
Occasional vocalist Winston Clifford duets with Tina on the perky ‘Where You At’ and there a reprise for her command of French on a couple of songs too. So something for everybody here, but overall a sense of an artist who certainly knows ‘Where’s She At’ aided by a band of top musical collaborators. As I said before, a classy production.