Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Janet Lawson Quintet

The Janet Lawson Quintet
The Janet Lawson Quintet
BBE Records

This is an expanded re-release of a Grammy nominated album by The Janet Lawson Quintet. It was originally issued on Inner City Records in 1981 and augmented by four selections from a tribute to Miles Davis in the late 1990s. Lawson was born in Baltimore before moving to New York for decades of performing as well as teaching. Recently she has had health issues and moved back to Baltimore to be with family. The Janet Lawson Quintet on the Inner City recording included Bill O’Connell, piano; Ratzo Harris, bass; Roger Rosenberg, sax/flute; and Jimmy Madison, drums. For the Miles Davis Tribute, Mike Richmond was on bass and Billy Hart on drums.

What becomes clearly evident on the opening "You Promised" is how commanding she was with her articulation and interpretation of lyrics, with her attention to diction and the nuances of words, through her phrasing, intonation, range and dynamics as well as magic of wordless improvisation lyrics with her, where her voice becomes another horn and becomes as important a solo voice as the instrumentalists, reflecting perhaps her studies with Warne Marsh. It does not hurt that she is backed by a superb band with O'Connell's soloing (and accompanying) brilliantly in addition to Rosenberg's flighty flute or meaty saxophone. Another stunning performance is of Fats Waller classic "Jitterbug Waltz," where Rosenberg's sax enters after Lawson opens it scatting the theme on a performance that seems modeled on Eric Dolphy's. Lawson's riveting scatted solo is followed my O'Connell's own fresh improvisation. "Round Midnight" generally lends itself to perhaps a more reflective tenor, but her scatting is followed by some brawny tenor sax.

From the Miles Davis session, there is an inspired interpretation of "It Ain't Necessarily So," with Mike Richmond adding a bass solo as well as a lovely "I Thought About You," and a stunning free-bop of "Joshua" from Miles' second great quintet. The remainder of this release is of a similar high level." The Press release for the British release mentions the inclusion of her rendition of Jobim's "Dindi," but that was not included on the review copy I received, so I am not sure whether that is included in the US release. The copy of the CD I received also did not list the personnel that I have included in this review. But with 72 minutes of often stunning music, this expanded "The Janet Lawson Quintet" makes for enthralling listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373).

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