Warm and Welcome Collection of Standard Ballads
Jazzheads JH 1192
One introductory guitar chord and Susie Arioli gets right to "My Funny Valentine," everyone's favorite jazz tune, and nails every romantic note of it. It's an attention-getting intro to one of the best albums of pop and jazz standards that I've heard in nearly a decade. Sets like these used to be commonplace from the likes of Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney, but it’s been some time since I heard a CD like this. The album is totally enjoyable from beginning to end and put together without a single misstep. Arioli and her band come across like pros.
Arioli is not a fussy singer; she is an exacting one, who miraculously makes her precision seem effortless and spontaneous. There's little fiddling around with the melody -- no scat, no potentially embarrassing hijinks, and no hysteria. She just knows the songs inside out and sings them with her lovely, warm alto and diction that makes every word important and understandable. That last part is of particular interest to me, as I seldom hear it. Arioli caps off a word with a delicate but precisely placed final consonant that gives everyone a full measure of the vowel before it. It is absolutely not any distortion of the rhythm, which is rock solid; it’s something more subtle, mysterious, and rare.
Her choices of material, which include "Time on My Hands," "All the Way," "Here's That Rainy Day," "There’s a Lull in My Life," "Come Rain or Come Shine," "When Your Lover Has Gone," and "Time After Time" are unabashedly retro ballads that have been recorded dozens of times. Guitarist Jordan Officer did the arrangements, as he has for all of Arioli's albums, and he plays some memorable interludes. Other great sidemen hold forth too, such as François Stevenson on vibes, Carmeron Wallis on sax, and Jérôme Dupuis-Cloutier on trumpet. Montreal is Arioli's home base, and the city's Spectra Musique partially funded the album.
The recording is warm and spacious, but I could have used a little more transparency and a better-focused bass line. The bass sound is balanced properly, but you can't always hear that initial attack of the string that holds down the rhythm section. Other than that, this set is as near perfect as can be. Arioli has won awards in Canada and France, and it's about time others knew about her. She's well worth the attention.
Be sure to listen to: Track 3, "Here's to the Losers," uses an entire saxophone section (three tenors and a baritone) in addition to the guitar, drums, and bass, and it has a simply delicious retro feel to it. "When Your Lover Has Gone" utilizes the same forces, while other songs use smaller yet equally effective combinations.
. . . Rad Bennett