Memphis based vocalist Joyce Cobb has been a part of that city’s scene for decades, first signing with Stax, later having a hot for Cream Records (later Hi Records) and shared stages with numerous musical legends. Her rhythm ’n’ blues stylings decades ago was always imbued with jazzy elements and in more recent years her focus has been more on the jazz side. She has a fascinating new release on Archer Records, the eponymous Joyce Cobb with the Michael Jefry Stevens Trio, Pianist Michael Jefry Stevens is a New Yorker who moved to Memphis and his trio consists of Jonathan Wires and drummer Renardo Ward.
Thee may be some who may find Ms. Cobb’s vocals, described on the publicity materials as “honey sweet,” an acquired taste with her sometimes less than precise diction. Her vocals here suggest was Jimmy Scott and if the performances may not quite pull at the heart strings as much as Scott, her performances still struct these ears in a most positive fashion. It helped that the Stevens Trio provide excellent support and Stevens takes any number of fine solos in addition to his harmonious accompaniments.
She sings classic standards mixed with vocal-ese adaptations of jazz classics including Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’, Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz, Hoagie Carmichael and Johnny Mercer’s Skylark, the juxtaposition of I’m in the Mood For Love with Moody’s Mood For Love, the Ellington-Strayhorn ballad Daydream, and My Heart Belongs to Daddy. Cobb contributes some atmospheric bluesy harmonica, before launching into Moanin’, delivering the Jon Hendricks lyrics with her overdubbing a backing vocal chorus that perhaps lends a sense that her vocal should have been a bit looser. Jitterbug Waltz is a delightful performance with Stevens accenting her horn like delivery of the lyrics with Wires taking a solo. Skylark opens with several choruses from Stevens in a reflective, lyrical mode before Cobb wistfully sings about her yearning for her lover. Like a horn, she chants Jon Hendricks’ lyric for Thelonious Monk’s Well That Was a Dream, capturing the angular aspects of Monk’s tune.
A bit more mainstream vocally is her rendition of My Heart Belongs to Daddy, with the trio’s delicious tango accompaniment. There is a delightful extending of the lyrics of I’m in the Mood For Love which deftly transitions into Moody’s Mood For Love, with a more staccato, trumpet-like vocal delivery. Another delightful medley is Blues Skies and In Walked Bud, with a peppy delivery of Blues Skies with bass and piano solos followed by the concise rendition of In Walked Bud. If You Know Love, is a marvelously delivered lament. followed by a wistful If You Never Come to Me, from the pen of Antonio Carlos Jobim and others. The rendition I Thought About You, opens pensively before before the tempo and vocal heat up. She delivers a hauntingly beautiful vocal on the Ellington-Strayhorn Daydream, before closing with another playful nod to Thelonious Monk, It’s Over Now (Well You Needn’t).
It is an ambitious and diverse group of songs/tunes that Joyce Cobb has selected here for a strong vocal jazz compilation on which she reveals how comfortable she is with a ballad as with Jon Hendricks lyrical adaptation to a classic Thelonious Monk number. Joyce Cobb has a myspace page, http://www.myspace.com/joycecobb and the label has a website http://archer-records.com from which this may be purchased as well as from cdbaby.
This review first appeared in the March 15-May 1 2011 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 334). I received my review copy from a publicist.