BWW CD Review: With THE SONGBOOK SESSION Lauren Henderson Keeps Her Track Record With Sullivan Fortner Intact
After more than a decade of collaboration, one would think that jazz singer Lauren Henderson and pianist Sullivan Fortner might have developed some kind of rapport with one another, both personally and professionally. And one would be right. Their latest album together, the rather unimaginatively titled THE SONGBOOK SESSION, is a CD of 9 exquisite performances of songs that music-lovers couldn't possibly not know, but in this twosome's more than capable combined hands are rendered as new works of art. It's a one-two punch of pleasure when artists bring something new to a song that you already know because when the listener has spent years loving every recording of Sammy Cahn's "Day By Day" or "People Will Say We're In Love," hearing that favorite tune is like spending a few minutes with an old friend; when a recording of that special song puts it in a new light, it's like discovering it all over again. Call it a new coat of paint, call it a makeover, call it a reinvention - it works, and it's definitely working for Henderson and Fortner. With their personal shorthand and styles, the duo joins together to reimagine and rearrange each beloved classic in ways that reflect Ms. Henderson's diverse background, making their sixth CD together an entertaining and enjoyable listen, from start to finish, with much of the credit stemming from the Latin-infused rhythms that seem to possess a particularly strong vocabulary for the duo.
Lauren Henderson is a singer possessing of one of the warmest, most inviting vocal instruments one could be lucky enough to spend 43 minutes listening to, whether she is working it out on straight-up jazz arrangements like the one on "Beautiful Love" or serving it smooth, like on the steamy treatment of "Meditacao" - naturally, the latter is Latin-infused to maximum effect, rich with rhythm and strong with sass, but the big surprise comes a little later when the (usually) equally Latin "Besame Mucho" is switched out as a kind of companion piece for "Beautiful Love" with percussionist Allan Mednard kicking the number off with a spectacular drum solo before Henderson and co. join him on this newly created jazz arrangement that will excite those with a sense of adventure and an open mind. This is a set of songs designed to put a spotlight on that which makes Ms. Henderson the respected artist that she is, that indefinable quality that stems from somewhere around the intersection where her heart and mind meet. Note how the emotional connection to the music flows through the specificity of determined phrasing and impeccable enunciation, a valuable choice when performing in a variety of languages, especially when creating the discernible difference between Spanish and Portuguese, the latter being a more luscious and languid sound than the former. Here is a singer determined to be heard and understood, both vocally and intellectually, and she is well protected by the musicians supporting her.
Speaking of the musicians, The Songbook Session is an album best listened to on repeat so that the first listen can be an observation of the entire creation, the second playing, a chance to focus only on Ms. Henderson's more than attention-worthy vocal stylings, and a third round, one meant to acknowledge the instrumental work of Misters Fortner, Mednard, and bassist Eric Wheeler, all of whom are artists of high quality. The music being created by the three men supporting Lauren Henderson is comprised of sounds so sublime and sweet as to make one wish this were a set being enjoyed in person, in a club, so that the manual dexterity and facial involvement of the artists could be witnessed in person. Anybody who has taken delight in watching a musician immersed in the revelry of creating perfection in noise will understand the reference made and long for the days when all are welcomed back into the clubs, so intimate and important is the relationship between the artist, their instrument and the music. The idea of watching Lauren Henderson make this music with her colleagues in a live setting is a dream too dear to risk having at this moment in our lives, but it's a dream that will be realized one day. In the meantime there is no reason why the images of stellar music flowing from these artists extraordinaire shouldn't be a vision of the imagination: simply pour the cognac, hit the play button, and let Lauren Henderson and The Songbook Session paint the happy pictures in your mind through their exceptional accomplishment in the art of jazz.
The Songbook Session is a 2020 release on the Brontosaurus Records label and is available on all streaming platforms.
Photo by Lauren Desberg