"Nature Boy's" been done to death in jazz clubs by everyone from Kurt Elling, Bobby Darin, and James Brown, to Celine Dion, Natalie Cole and of course, most famously by Nat King Cole in 1948. The 1947 Eden Ahbez tune - similar to Antonin Dvorak's 1887 Piano Quintet No. 2 in A, Op. 81 - is a curious, all-too-short, mysterious and possibly scandalous tome about a strange, enchanted boy who seemed to have grown up in isolation, far from society, and who eventually learned about love.
Seattle vocalist Gail Pettis' second CD effort, "Here in the Moment," features a unique take on the popular jazz standard, thanks to pianist Darin Clendenin. At singer Pettis's request, Clendenin came up with a simple, but catchy bass line intro that leads into a Latin pianissimo swing. The bass line repeats itself in threads throughout the song, as each instrument is featured in a solo. After an initiation period of getting used to the difference, it's quite memorable, and upbeat--the total antithesis of the style of countless predecessors who've taken a fancy to gloom it down into a dark, sad, ballady affair.
"I Could Have Danced All Night" is more Broadway [from 1956's "My Fair Lady"] than jazz standard. But Pettis changed that and made it her own with her fair, lilting touch and a spare, but groovin? backbeat. The drum solo by Mark Ivester in the beginning makes this track stand out from the rest and Pettis' controlled vocals make their own natural, original beats.
A lot of less-confident singers and even over-confident ones try to out-vocalize the music and the musicians. They hold onto every note like it's their last, in a desperate act to prove themselves to the audience as a real singer. Gail Pettis is a real singer. She doesn't have to prove anything to anybody, which frees her up to do whatever she wants with a song. In this song, she does--from extending the climax, using the silences to her advantage, and not prolonging the ending. For the ending, she chooses to talk it out - with tones humorous and excited (Pettis loves to swing dance), instead of showing off some operatic vibrato ala Ethel Merman.
Another virtue is Pettis's understanding that she is but a part of the jazz ensemble. In all her 11 tracks, she knows when to step away from the spotlight and let her musicians (Clendenin, Ivester, pianist Randy Halberstadt - who arranged "I Could Have Danced All Night," btw, Jeff Johnson and Clipper Anderson on bass) go for it. In fact, there are times when it's more them and less her.
One of the most listenable, rich and melodic tunes on this CD is the little-known (to the masses) 1940 Gladys Shelley and Abner Silver classic, "How Did He Look?," arranged by Clendenin. It's the one I keep going back to over and over again, and you will too. I could've done without the cancer stick reference (it was the '40s, smoking was what they did and sang about in love songs, and I'm OC-D about referring to it), but Gail Pettis's voice on this one song is out of this world. She sounds the most invested in the mood, the contents and the listening outcome, comfortably wrapping her smooth, but pensive and saddened voice around the lyrics of a woman who wants to move forward with her life but can't because she can't get enough gossip about the man that got away. "I Thought About You" by Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Van Heusen plays and is treated in much the same solemn fashion.