Darden Purcell is the Director of Jazz Studies, Jazz Voice instructor, and director of the Mason Jazz Vocal Ensemble at George Mason University. As such, she is an in-demand jazz educator who has been a guest artist/clinician/conductor at Capital University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech, Southern Nazarene University, Tiffin University, Indiana State School Music Association, Virginia Music Educators Association (VMEA), ACDA Southern Region conference, and Pennsylvania Music Educators Association Jazz festivals.
Dr Purcell is a former Washington DC Air Force Band vocalist, having performed with the groups High Flight and the Airmen of Note. During her enlistment she met guitarist Shawn Purcell (the other Dr Purcell), and the two married, becoming a jazz power couple, both on stage and in the academy. Shawn arranged and performed on Darden's first two recordings, Easy Living (Armoured Records, 2009) and Where The Blue Begins (Armoured Records, 2017). For her part, Darden has been featured in each of Shawn's recordings, Symmetricity (Armoured Records, 2019) and 180 (Origin Records, 2022).
Darden releases her third recording, Love's Got Me In A Lazy Mood on OA2 Records. The power pair produced the disc with Shawn again in charge of arrangements. Vibraphonist Joe Locke is prominently featured in six of the eleven selections. He lends a percussively tactile quality to the sound of the ensemble. Locke also provides a sonic sparing partner to Darden's solid alto midrange. The pair duet in a prefabricated chorus to great effect on the opening "Willow Weep For Me." From the beginning was the faint hint of George Shearing, an observation that paid dividends when reading the liner notes where Darden acknowledges Nancy Wilson's collaboration with Shearing on The Swingin's Mutual (Capitol Records, 1961).
That is the key to the success of this updating of that mid-century Shearing sound. Aside from fidelity, Shawn's arrangements sharpened edges where necessary while retaining the softness of Darden's overall theme of love won, misplaced, lost, and regained. This approach works best on "I Concentrate On You," "Estate," and "You've Changed" all moody, humid, and crepuscular.
The stand-out pieces are the 1929 Robinson/Conley composition "A Cottage For Sale," which brings to mind art as disparate as George Jones' "The Grand Tour" and Ernest Hemingway's shortest story ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn."). It is storytelling at a high level. The Purcells frame this story of loss as wistfully sardonic wishful thinking. Shawn's guitar solo is wordy, lyrical, and, finally, resigned. The couple's original "Chatterbox" is homemade vocalese over a Shawn Purcell blues line the two filled out during the pandemic. Joe Locke fits right into the piece as if he was visited by the spirit of Milt Jackson the night before.
Inventive repertoire programming and crack arrangements coupled with the synergy of the jazz poser couple make Love's Got Me In A Lazy Mood a sweetly intoxicating experience.