Erin McDougald – Behind the Soiree | The Vocal Sound of Jazz

Erin McDougald – Behind the Soiree

The most difficult part of reviewing this CD, for me, was trying to read the curlicue cursive script in the liner notes, which of COURSE had to be white print on a black background (one of the most difficult to read, third to red on black or blue on black…all three seem to be in vogue these days).

The easy part was the music. Erin McDougald, thank God, is one of those jazz singers who actually believe in singing “out” with the voice, not whispering and trying to sound like Marilyn Monroe. She’s an aggressive singer in the Anita O’Day mold, she pushes the beat and her backup band is equally hot and hip, particularly soprano and also saxist Dave Liebman and vibes player Mark Sherman, who attack their instruments with both musical invention and gusto. On Begin the Beguine, she does start softly, but nuances her voice with crescendos. She also does an imaginative rendition, adding notes to the melody line that aren’t in the sheet music, her backup featuring slow piano triplets to vary the beat. McDougald doesn’t really scat, but she knows how to bend the beat in a really jazzy way.

A sort of calypso beat opens the old Depression-era hit Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? This she sings in a medium-up tempo, with flute and soprano sax playing nice licks behind her, far different from the way Bing Crosby did originally or Spanky McFarland did decades later with her band, Spanky and Our Gang. “Al” almost sounds as if he’s having a ball as he begs for change! The middle section is given over to the horns as a group, with Tom Harrell swinging out in a wonderfully boppish trumpet solo. When flautist Dan Block takes his solo, McDougald does indulge in a bit of scatting, followed in turn by Rob Block again on piano.

I was surprised and delighted to hear her sing Jack Jenney’s 1947 hit with the Harry James band, The Man With the Horn, as a vocal. (How many readers out there remember, or have even heard of, Jack Jenney? And yet he was once considered one of the greatest jazz trombonists of his time.) Yet although the song was written by Jenney, the star of the original record was alto saxist Willie Smith, and McDougald does a lovely job emulating some of his phrasing. This is followed by the wonderful progressive swing tune by Lionel Hampton, Midnight Sun, with Johnny Mercer’s great lyrics. She starts this out at Hampton’s original relaxed tempo, but adds some double-time passages as the song goes on. (Trivia: Hampton stole the title of this tune from his bass player at the time, Charles Mingus. Mingus wasn’t very happy about this, but then turned around and wrote his own tune with the title Tonight at Noon, which was even hipper.) The soprano sax solo is absolutely superb, and Sherman’s vibes solo is also quite good.

McDougald’s original tune, Outside the Soirée, begins very slowly, with guitar playing over bowed bass. It’s a ballad, but a hip ballad, and she sings out on this one, too. In the notes, she is quoted as saying, “I just hear a possibility and sing it…Serious players do this in rehearsal or writing phases, but I tend to get these ideas onstage.” Rob Block switches to guitar on this one; it sounds like an amplified acoustic rather than an electric instrument. There’s also a sweet alto solo, and McDougald’s lyrics tell a story of a woman trying to make it in the big city, a parallel to her own life. Charles DeForest’s Don’t Wait Up for Me, taken at a swinging but asymmetric beat, also tells its own little tale. The solos on this one are less spectacular but no less original or tasteful, with Rob again on guitar.

When The Masquerade is Over started, I almost thought it was a Jobim tune, since it’s played with a bossa nova beat. This has been one of my favorite old songs since I first heard it as a teenager on the old Glenn Miller version, but McDougald is a far better singer than Ray Eberle. (Al Jarreau also did a cute version of it back in the 1980s.) This one has a nice quiet accompaniment, mostly Rob Block’s acoustic guitar with bass and very minimal percussion. Both bassist and guitarist take nice solos, Block’s being especially inventive. The piano comes in for the last chorus as well.

McDougald opens Spring Can Hang You Up the Most in a laid-back fashion, but as soon as the bass enters the tempo picks up and the tune begins to really swing. Alto sax and vibes back her up with imaginative playing, later laying out some wonderful solo work. When the World Was Young is another life tale sort of song, with McDougald accompanied solely by guitar. But the biggest surprise, to me, was her uptempo bop treatment of the old 1920s tunes Linger Awhile and Avalon. Had Al Jolson heard this, he wouldn’t have known what hit him! She cooks at an almost manic uptempo throughout, with Rob Block reminding me of Oscar Moore in his solo. (In case you don’t know, Oscar was Nat Cole’s original guitarist with his trio, and absolutely one of the hippest and most original jazz soloists of the 1940s.) The muted trumpet also has echoes of the past, a bit of Dizzy here and a little Fats Navarro there. We’re also treated to a drum solo in this one.

The most modern of the songs on this album (except for her original), Maury Yeston’s Unusual Way is also given a hip sort of bossa nova treatment, with Dan Block switching to clarinet for a nice low-register solo and brother Rob following on guitar. She closes her set with a jazz treatment of an old Irish tune, The Parting Glass, taken at a nice medium-uptempo. Again the solos are outstanding, as is the band as a whole.

Erin McDougald is clearly the jazz vocal find of the year to date. You’ll love this album!

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

 



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