Every now and then, the art and craft of jazz gets a kick up its rear end. Put more politely, it is updated from time to time.
A small number of jazz instrumentalists and vocalists do this by planting melodic flags on altogether higher harmonic peaks. With Bebop, for example, Charlie Parker and John Birks Gillespie upended swing's sway with dizzying feats of individual improvisation; Ella Fitzgerald single-handedly transformed the role of the jazz songstress with spellbinding scat singing; Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor reconfigured melodic maps aplenty; Sun Ra was one of the first all-round jazz keyboardists, utilising electric instruments long before they were fashionable in a jazz context. These are but a few instances of the way jazz musicians, on their unending quest for creativity and artistic uniqueness, enable fresh breezes to blow through stuffy rooms of aesthetic appreciation.
For a little over a century, the common currency of jazz musicians has been the ?jazz standard'. This enables them to jam or play/sing with any musician, whether they are in Manhattan or Melbourne, Boston or Beijing, Vancouver or Vienna. These standards chiefly comprise Tin Pan Alley show tunes, pieces from the Great American Songbook, and the compositional corpus of the music's Ragtime, Swing, Bebop and Post Bop numbers passed down over several generations. Along with the so-called Fake and Real Books, this expansive body of work has stood, and will continue to stand the test of time. As long as there are jazz musicians in existence, these works will be treated with a mixture of sacredness and relevance.
In the same way that Cole Porter's I Get A Kick Out of You or Rodgers and Hammerstein's My Favourite Things would have been popular with jazz musicians and their audiences in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, an altogether different universe of compositions will find, and in fact, have found resonance in the new millennium, based on the music of a much more contemporary period.
It is at this point that Dee Daniels enters the conversational frame, so to speak, to bequeath her own inimitable vocal gifting to the ongoing lyrical tradition as a jazz singer non pareil.
On JAZZINIT, she reinvigorates and indeed lends fresh interpretation to new material cutting across a very broad swathe of genres and styles. What is remarkable about this specific take on the material at hand is Dee's deployment of a potent amalgam of blues, gospel and swing, among other musical resources. Joined by pianist Tony Foster, drummer Greg Williamson and bassist Russ Botten in an all-acoustic format, Dee's latest offering is certain to bring new audiences to an appreciation of jazz and give free rein to the improvisational impetus in the direction of canonising popular music.
She goes knocking on the library door of 1970s funk'n'soul with an infectiously swinging rendition of Earth, Wind & Fire's Cant Hide Love. Like an ol' time preacher, Dee "speaks into" the lyric, perhaps more emphatically than Maurice White and company did on the memorable Skip Scarbrough-penned number. Next up is the 1926 Hirsch-Rose composition, Deed I Do, covered famously by Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee. Dee's rendition is relaxed and mellow, permitting the song to breathe in measured, latin-tinged tones. Her interpretation of Stevie Wonder's Another Star (taken from the Motown artist's seminal Songs in the Key of Life double album of 1976) is one of JAZZINIT's most powerful balladic moments.
JAZZINIT competently maps the geography of the human heart in a brace of appropriate meters and moods, be they sotto voce or fortissimo. What A Fool Believes (done by Michael McDonald and Doobie Brothers), is a prime example: Greg Williamson's rhythmic brushes and cymbals, and Tony Foster's gentle Afro-Cuban influenced piano chords (with occasional nods to Monty Alexander) suitably compliment Dee's convincing and stirring delivery.
Without ever descending into schmaltziness or mawkish sentimentality, Dee rehabilitates Lionel Richie's 1983 chart-topping hit Hello, giving it new meaning within a jazz context, her controlled contralto evidently revealing itself to be a wondrous vocal pearl. Dee and company's mid-tempo blues shuffle on Fire and Rain stands in sharp - and I daresay welcome - contrast to James Taylor's original. Again, the influence of the church is strong; Dee manages to successfully merge the secular and the spiritual, the pew and the performance hall. If (from Bread), the hardy perennial played and performed at weddings around the world, gets a new and thoroughly moving rendition on JAZZINIT, as does Aretha Franklin's Respect -- as relevant now as it was when Aretha first released hers in 1967.
Elvis Presley in a jazz context? ?No problem!' is Dee's reply. Her soulful, softly uttered take on the King's 1956 hit song Love Me Tender is calming and soothing. Russ Botten's confident and assured walking bass line is also one of this rendition's remarkable features. On Our Day Will Come, Dee's cool vocalisation buoyed by the infectious mid-tempo swing set up by her backing trio, makes you want to head to the dance floor. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Diana Ross as well as Ruby and the Romantics have covered the Mort Garson and Bob Hillard song, but Dee has now claimed it as her own.
The CD's penultimate rendition, yet another unusual choice, is Felice and Boudleaux Bryant's Bye Bye Love, popularised by The Everly Brothers, Ray Charles and even Simon and Garfunkel. This time around, done in a funky half-time groove for the verses and a rollicking 4/4 shuffle on the choruses.
Rounding things out for the finale, Dee has penned an original, The Thought of You. It's a bluesy and somewhat dark song, brimful of pathos and winter imagery, but packs the kind of emotional punch that characterises the best love songs.
Dee Daniels has enviably succeeded in extending and vitalising the jazz canon. Most importantly, she has loaned her considerable vocal abilities (honed through multiple decades in distinguished performance spaces and recording situations throughout North America and Europe) in the service of an evolving art form.
As is the case with Ms Daniels' excellent DVD, Dee Daniels Live at Biblo, Dee is queen of all that she musically surveys. You could say that JAZZINIT is a tour d'horizon; Dee takes us on the jazz tour of popular song, starting from Deed I Do penned in 1926, right up to the contemporary period.
I am confident that you will explore many delightful musical vistas along the way as you listen to these masterful renditions on JAZZINIT.