By: Brenda Nelson-Strauss, Black Grooves
Cleveland native Vanessa Rubin is a self-described jazz vocalist who “enjoys timeless melodies and exquisite vocal forms as well as embracing stories lesser told.” On her new album, The Dream Is You: Vanessa Rubin Sings Tadd Dameron, her mission is to highlight well known, obscure, and new lyrical works of composer/arranger/pianist Tadd Dameron. A fellow Clevelander, Tadd Dameron (1917-1965) was an influential arranger/composer and pianist during the bop era of the 1940s and ‘50s, writing charts for the likes of Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, and Sarah Vaughan. For the past 25 years, Rubin has included Dameron’s songs in her repertoire, and now presents the first all-vocal recording of his music.
For this project, Rubin commissioned new arrangements and also added lyrics to five of Dameron’s instrumental charts. The album opens with Dameron’s best known work, “Lady Bird,” in a swinging arranging by Frank Foster, who gives a similar treatment to “Weekend.” On the ballad “You’re a Joy,” another Foster arrangement, Rubin’s approach is fairly understated and at times the ensemble isn’t quite tight enough to properly set the mood.
Jazz luminary Jimmy Heath arranged four of the tracks, including “On a Misty Night.” This song is one of the highlights, featuring newly composed lyrics by Georgie Fame, a nice sax solo from Bruce Williams, a solid groove from the ensemble, and Rubin negotiating the vocal chromatics with aplomb. Rubin penned the lyrics for Heath’s arrangement of “Reveries Do Come True (The Dream Is You),” originally an instrumental composed by Dameron for a Milt Jackson album. This is another solid performance by Rubin, with excellent backing by John Cowherd (piano), Kenny Davis (bass), and Carl Allen (drums).
Dameron biographer Benny Golson arranged another well-known ballad, “If You Could See Me Now.” There’s plenty of opportunity for extended solos from the horn section on this harmonically complex song, and Rubin does a fine job of selling the story. “Kitchenette Across the Hall” is a fun tune featuring contemporary lyrics from Shirley Jones. Once again Cowherd sets the tone on piano, while Rubin’s vocal stylings are more creative and really swing. Another highlight is “Good Bait,” a standard Dameron composed with Count Basie, given new life in this arrangement by Willie “Face” Smith. Rubin picks a medium swing tempo and the ensemble stays in perfect synch, giving bassist Kenny Davis an opportunity to solo.
The Dream Is You: Vanessa Rubin Sings Tadd Dameron sheds new light on an important composer/arranger of the bop era that is likely unfamiliar to contemporary audiences. Perhaps even more important, Rubin expands the vocal jazz repertoire with five new Tadd Dameron arrangements.