By: Jerome Wilson, All About Jazz

vrubinTadd Dameron is regarded as the great romantic of bebop-era jazz composers, a writer with a talent for creating smooth, memorable melodies that could evoke real emotion. Most of his works are known mainly as instrumentals but Vanessa Rubin has compiled lyrics written for some of his tunes, had new lyrics written for others and even provided words to one herself. This recording of her efforts is, surprisingly, the first ever all-vocal set of Tadd Dameron’s music.

Rubin’s singing is classy throughout, with hints of the subtle swing of Carmen McRae. She benefits from the backing of an eight-piece band playing charts by several of Dameron’s friends and disciples, Frank Foster, Benny Golson, Jimmy Heath, Willie Smith and Bobby Watson.  There are several familiar pieces like “Lady Bird” and “On A Misty Night” on hand, all played with swinging assurance. Willie Smith’s version of “Good Bait,” in particular, comes off breezily hip with the horns tightly arranged to sound like a much larger band. Benny Golson gives the classic ballad “If You Could See Me Now” an elegant arrangement, with the reeds and piano flowing gently behind Rubin’s velvety voice, and Eddie Allen and Clifton Anderson taking pretty solo turns.

Lesser-known compositions are treated with the same care and style as the familiar ones. “Never Been In Love” is an elegant Latin-flavored ballad given a smoky, romantic sheen in Bobby Watson’s arrangement, while “Weekend” is a swirling waltz sporting a brassy horn arrangement by Frank Foster not too far from some of the arranging on Dameron’s own recordings. “You’re A Joy” is a lush ballad with an unidentified flautist fluttering through the ensemble, and “Whatever Possessed Me” may be the single most beautiful track on the CD, thanks to Rubin’s angelic singing and the swooning horns in Jimmy Heath’s arrangement.  Alex Harding’s baritone is a secret weapon of this and many other tracks in the way his sax wraps around the horn ensembles like smoke, giving them a lush gravity.

On the ballads “Reveries Do Come True,” a romantic tango with Rubin’s own lyrics, and “Next Time Around,” a vocal version of “Soultrane,” the horns lay out and Rubin is backed only by the rhythm section.  Jon Cowherd’s piano, Kenny Davis’ bass and Carl Allen’s drums all shine on these tracks with Cowherd’s touch on “Next Time Around” being particularly lovely.

Tadd Dameron is something of a neglected figure today but this set reminds us of the beauty and depth of his music, and shows how well it adapts to vocal treatments. It is also a reminder of how good a singer Vanessa Rubin is.

Track Listing: Lady Bird; Kitchenette Across The Hall; If You Could See Me Now; Weekend; On A Misty Night; Never Been In Love; Next Time Around (Soultrane); Good Bait; Reveries Do Come True (The Dream Is You); Whatever Possessed Me; You’re A Joy; I Think I’ll Go Away.

Personnel: Vanessa K. Rubin: vocals; John Cowherd; piano; Kenny Davis: bass; Carl Allen: drums; Eddie Allen: trumpet; Patience Higgins: tenor saxophone; Bruce Williams: alto saxophone; Clifton Anderson: trombone; Alex Harding: baritone saxophone.

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