Harlem on My Mind
Some familiar with this blog may be aware, I am a fan of the singer, Catherine Russell. Regarding her 2012 release "Strictly Romancin'," I observed that, "Vocally she remains as commanding as in her past efforts as her vocals are delivered soulfully yet with a clarity that many vocalists today would benefit from listening to her mix of clean diction and musicality." The same can be said about this latest recording, with a mix of classic swing numbers mixed with intriguing renditions of fifties rhythm'n'blues and a few obscure songs that she introduces to many.
On her latest release she is backed by a superb rhythm section of guitarist Mike Munisteri, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Tal Ronen, and drummer Mark McLean. Saxophonists Andy Ferber, Mark Lopeman and Dan Block along, with trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, are among those playing on horns. One track has centenarian Fred Staton (brother of the late Candy Staton).
The title track is an Irving Berlin song that Ethel Waters originally recorded and is performed with small group backing as Russell so sonorously delivers "I’ve got Harlem on my mind /And I’m longing to be low down/ And my parlez vous will not ring true / With Harlem on my mind," and followed by the vibrant big little band (tentet) horn-driven "I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me," with Munisteri providing solid rhythm guitar in the manner of Freddie Greene. This is followed by the ebullient swing of "Swing! Brother Swing!" with wonderful muted trumpet by Kellso, trombone from John Allred and Mark Lopeman's tough tenor sax. Then there is the wonderful rendition of Ray Noble's classic ballad, "The Very Thought of You," the delightful, slightly naughty, neo-trad reworking of the Clarence Williams' classic, "You Got the Right Key But The Wrong Keyhole" (with Lopeman's clarinet and Munisteri's banjo), and anogther lovely ballad, "Don’t Take Your Love From Me," with a marvelous, romantic tenor sax solo from Fred Staton.
An impish rendition Fats Waller-Andy Razaf gem “Blue Turning Grey Over You,” is followed by a wonderful rendition of a torch song, “You’re My Thrill,” with a marvelous Farber horn arrangement. I am not sure who first recorded “I Want a Man” (Esther Phillips?) but Russell's rendition reminds me of the sass and vigor Ruth Rrown brought to similar material. Benny ‘King’ Carter’s classic “When Lights Are Low,” receives a royal rendition followed by a terrific cover of Little Willie John’s “Talk To Me, Talk To Me,” along with her own, heart-felt take of Dinah Washington’s “Let Me Be the First to Know.”
The retro-swing “Goin’ To Town,” was part of Duke Ellington’s Cotton Club repertoire and recorded by Catherine’s father Luis Russell in 1931. The effervescent performance provides a lively close to another superb recording from Ms. Russell. No one is producing such a series of excellent joyful celebrations of swing jazz and jump blues as Catherine Russell, of which “Harlem on My Mind,” is simply the latest example.
I purchased this as a download. Here Catherine performs a blues Dinah Washington recorded, "My Man Is An Undertaker."