Album reviews

Catherine Russell – ‘Send For Me’

Catherine Russell – Send For Me

(Dot Time Records. Limited Edition CD or Download. Album review by Denny Ilett)

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Vocalist Catherine Russell is a native of New York city and also happens to be the daughter of legendary bandleader Luis Russell (1902-1963). Luis led a big band from the late 20’s through the late 40’s which, at one time or another, accommodated such stars of early jazz as Henry “Red” Allen, Albert Nicholas, J.C Higginbotham, Rex Stewart and ‘Pops’ Foster. It is, however, his association with Louis Armstrong, who fronted the Russell band between 1935 and 1943,  for which he is best remembered. 

(A good retrospective of Luis Russell’s work can be found on a Retrieval Records –  RTR79023 – compilation ‘The Luis Russell Story 1929-1934’ which covers the period before Armstrong’s tenure).

Catherine herself has already enjoyed a fruitful career, stretching back to the early 1990’s, as a backing vocalist for many big pop/rock names such as Donald Fagen, David Bowie and Madonna although she eventually quit to pursue a solo career as a jazz vocalist so she wouldn’t have to “compete with electric guitars”; preferring, instead, to work in acoustic settings.

As the daughter of jazz royalty and, if ever pedigree counted for anything, it’s in evidence on this 13-track album, Russell’s eighth as leader, recorded in the summer of 2021. Russell’s effortless, warm and soulful delivery permeates each and every track, all personally selected by Russell, all songs that have “inspired or touched me in some way”.

The musicians accompanying Catherine are a veritable who’s-who of New York’s vibrant classic jazz and swing scene’s who are so steeped in the pre-bop jazz tradition that one often has to remind oneself that this recording is from last year and not from the 1930’s or early 40’s! 

It’s the highest compliment that these musicians (listed below) play with an almost staggering authenticity especially in an age where ‘modern’ style and influence could easily have ‘corrupted’ these recordings.

Russell betrays little of her pop background in her vocal delivery adhering, instead, to her mighty jazz lineage although, of course, it’s worth remembering that jazz of this time, and type, was the pop music of the day.

Featured are bona-fide American Songbook classics such as East Of The Sun, You Stepped Out Of A Dream and If I Could Be With You alongside such lesser known jazz/R&B crossover tunes as You Can Fly High, In The Night and the title track Send For Me which was a huge hit for Nat ‘King’ Cole in 1957 and, as Catherine notes, stands as proof of what a great blues singer Cole could be.

Send For Me, the album, is a fine collection of love songs performed flawlessly by Russell in a variety of styles and settings from ballad to swing, from New Orleans to Chicago all the way up to the R&B and proto-Rock n Roll of the late 1940’s and early 50’s. In Russell’s own words , the music is best described as “romance that swings”.

It’s an album brimming with fine soloists, swinging arrangements and sublime vocals and, if Catherine Russell and her band ever make it over to the UK, be sure to buy a ticket and remind yourself that jazz, played this way, is as viable and accessible as any pop music yet still requires a certain level of virtuosity that jazz listeners would expect to hear.

BAND: Catherine Russell – vocals, percussion

Matt Munisteri – guitar, banjo, musical director, Tal Ronen – bass, Mark McLean – drums, Mark Shane – piano, Sean Mason – piano.

Jon-Erik Kellso – trumpet, John Allred – trombone, Evan Arntzen – reeds, Paul Nedzela – baritone saxophone, Mark Lopeman – tenor saxophone, Aaron Heick – tenor saxophone, Philip Norris – tuba.

LINK: Send for Me at Presto Music

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