Nicki Parrott – Dear Blossom

Nicki Parrott is special. In addition to being a warm, smart singer, she’s also a bassist. An interesting combination, which means as a singer she can swing in time. And as a bassist, she’s lyrical. I must say that when her new CD, Dear Blossom: A Tribute to Blossom Dearie (Arbors), crossed my desk, I was a little apprehensive. Dearie is a dangerous pianist-singer to take on. Her hip, girlish vocal style developed during a lengthy stay in Paris in the 1950s remains delicately distinct. What’s more, Dearie had a way of phrasing that was deceptively difficult. She was singing, yet it came across as conversational. And then there was the matter of her extraordinary taste in songs, which always fit her like a Dior.

When I put on Parrott’s CD, I was blown away. Parrott not only sensitively understands all of this, she even has Dearie’s understated dry vocal style, with its petite vibrato and splash of wistful vulnerability. It’s remarkable, really. Then again, this was a natural progression after Parrott’s album Sakura Sakura [Cherry Blossoms] (2012), on which she recorded They Say It’s Spring with Dearie’s feel.

Take I Walk a Little Faster on her new album. Dearie recorded the song in 1957 on Give Him the Ooh-la-la for Verve. Parrott’s version is exceptional, delivered with enormous tenderness and purpose. Or Rhode Island Is Famous for You, which Dearie recorded on Soubrette Sings Broadway Hit Songs (Verve) in 1960. And Parrott’s French isn’t half bad on Tout Doucement, which Dearie recorded in 1956 on Blossom Dearie (Verve). What I love most about this album is that Parrott doesn’t over-sing the material or over-dramatize the lyric. She just sings with Dearie in her heart, and the album works beautifully.

Parrott has great support here. She’s backed by Chris Grasso on piano, Chuck Redd on bass and Lenny Robinson on drums. Special guests are Warren Vache on cornet, Engelbert Wrobel on clarinet and tenor sax and Vince Cherico on percussion. My only wish is that Parrott had included Dusty Springfield, from Dearie’s That’s Just the Way I Want (It) to Be (with Harold McNair on flute and tenor saxophone, by the way)—the same album from which Parrott chose Inside a Silent Tear. Dearie wrote the song with Jim Council and Norma Tanega, and it’s the hippest little thing.

No matter. Parrott’s tribute to Dearie remains the finest and most graceful jazz tribute album by a vocalist that I’ve heard this year, an album that was wonderfully recorded by the late Jim Czak. I only wish I could call to tell him. Sigh. It’s also gratifying to see that Rachel Domber is producing amazing work at Arbors.


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