May 2013

Denise King & Olivier HutmanBold Singing from Denise King

Cristal Records CR 209
Format: CD

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

Talk about successful hands-across-the-sea unions! Denise King was born in Philadelphia and got her first singing experience in clubs in the City of Brotherly Love. Olivier Hutman was born in France and has quite a lengthy resume as bandleader, sideman, and film-music composer, having made over 200 recordings. The two met, toured together, and now have released Give Me the High Sign, their second album together. It sounds like they have known each other for a long time when actually their association has been very brief. But based on what I hear on this dynamic CD, their partnership should go on for a very long time.

The duo's music making brings different influences together to create a most appealing sound. There's a bit of funk, a bit of soul, a bit of sophisticated urban jazz, a bit of blues, and a lot of genius. Denise King is a bold singer. She has a wide range (check out the high soprano at the end of "Blame It on My Youth") but sings mostly in her warm middle and lower registers. There's nothing tentative, as she seems totally in charge of what she is doing; she's a real trouper and professional. On first hearing her, I thought that she was carrying on the great tradition of African-American singers that was so well served in the past by the likes of Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Ernestine Anderson, and Nancy Wilson.

Olivier is a virtuoso keyboard player, and as an arranger he is also bold and innovative, yet in a comfortable manner. He leads the Olivier Hutman Trio, and the other two players in that musical group are on hand here: bassist Darryl Hall and drummer Steve Williams. Two extra sidemen sat in for this recording -- saxophonist Olivier Temime and trumpet player extraordinaire Stéphane Belmondo.

Eight of the songs are Hutman originals, five written with Viana Wember-Hutman and three with King. There's an expected song about unrequited love ("I Lost My Way"), but this is refreshingly balanced with songs about requited love ("Mellow Mellow"), a challenge to save the planet ("What Did They Say Today?"), and an infectious song about just living life to the fullest ("Can You Do It?"). The latter has a closing that's a real upbeat challenge:

Look for the best that life can give to you
Look your life right in the eye
Just let go and you'll fly so high
Here's your choice to take this dance
Can you do it?

Standards include Duke Ellington's "Daydream," Gil Scott-Heron's "Save the Children," and "Blame It on My Youth," and "I Only Have Eyes for You." The latter receives a treatment that is one of the best ever afforded that often-performed song. Hutman has come up with an arrangement that is different and original yet sounds right, and King sings the lyrics for all they're worth, which is a lot.

They recorded the album at Studio Alhambra Colbert in France, with additional vocal tracks from Philadelphia's Turtle Studios. If there were seams, they don't show at all. Give Me the High Sign has a rich, robust, and cohesive recording that sounds pretty darned wonderful. The rhythm section and sidemen are very much to the fore, but miraculously enough they don't step on King's shoes. They don't get in her way; they just complement her vocals hand in glove. There were just a few times that I could have used more definition in the bass lines, but overall this a superb album that was well recorded, an A-lister that I feel most people will like, regardless of their normal listening habits.

Be sure to listen to: Stéphane Belmondo adds tremendous mood to this album with his focused and superbly nuanced playing. His entrance on "Give Me the High Sign," however, is beyond that -- it's totally electric. He seems to rip it right from the melody and then comment on that rip.

. . . Rad Bennett