In 2013, the remarkable vocalist Lyn Stanley stunned both the music world and the audiophile marketplace with her internationally acclaimed debut album, Lost In Romance. With the release of her new album Potions [from the 50s], Ms. Stanley has provided the second chapter of what is destined to be a powerful and lasting presence on both the jazz and popular scene.
Ms Stanley has again surrounded herself with an outstanding cast of 13 of Los Angeles’ and New York’s finest musicians, assembled with full clarity of purpose to create the perfect environment for every selection. And as with Lost In Romance, exceptional care and focus has been taken by Lyn and the album’s producer Kenny Werner to achieve the utmost in production quality and audiophile perfection for CD/SACD, digital and vinyl release.
Where Lost in Romance embraced the fertile ground of the Great American Songbook, Potions [from the 50s] digs deeply into the riches of some of the most popular songs composed during the 1950s. Many of these songs are welded in memory to the performers who created the original versions. But Lyn has accomplished the goal of all great vocalists by making every song entirely her own. Some of this is due to her conceptual skills and the extraordinary talents of her arrangers. Returning from Romance are the brilliant tandem of Tamir Hendelman and Steve Rawlins, but also joined here by Werner, Bill Cunliffe and Mike Lang – all three of whom provide their formidable pianistic wizardry as well – and Lyn herself.
But the major credit must go to Ms Stanley’s radiant vocal artistry. Her flawless intonation and sumptuous warmth combine with a full bodied resonance whether in the darkest deep tones a la Sarah Vaughan or the penetrating register where Dinah Washington lived. Her lyrics – precisely enunciated, perfectly phrased and vividly rhythmic – tell her stories not only through the words, but in the emotional content with which she sings them. There is a theatrical quality of expression that is embodied in dance – the first discipline of artistic expression she embraced – with a grace and sensuality that coats every syllable she sings with a fluidity that is simply mesmerizing. Clearly this is an artist who knows both her intent and the methodology to pursue in order to achieve it.
The exemplary cast of supporting musicians complements her vocals in ideal fashion – subtly, sensitively and with a vitality and inventiveness that are perfectly suited to the spirit of each song and arrangement. The aforementioned pianists are joined by bassist Mike Valerio (spelled by Johannes Weidenmueller on four songs) with John Robinson, Ari Hoenig and Joe La Barbera sharing the drum chair. Luis Conte adds his percussive colors to four tracks, while Thom Rotella’s guitar graces three. Clarinetist Tom Rainier, tenorman Rickey Woodard and Glenn Drewes on trumpet and flugelhorn are brought to the table in selected spots as well, each adding their own distinctive flavors with impeccable taste and flair.
The delightful repertoire of 15 songs is drawn from a broad palette of jazz, popular hits, blues, country, R&B and doo-wop (and one very special Gershwin classic in a bonus track). Some are delivered in a similar context to the originals, others are uniquely conceived in unexpected fashion, but all of them are pure Lyn Stanley – captivating, imaginative and singular.
Upon hearing her seductively breathy Cry Me a River, evoking mermaid gowns and the smoky late-night intimacy of a 50s film noir club setting, the song’s composer Arthur Hamilton said “You really got hold of the song – and did it a favor.”
That quote is valid for the entire album, whether Lyn remains faithful to the original feeling or decides to take it somewhere else.
Lyn’s take on In the Still of the Night – Fred Parris’ Five Satins hit that is #1 on virtually every Best of Doo-Wop list – flirts between emotive ballad and an infectious bolero with flugelhorn spicing, making it sound like it was written just for her. She also re-imagines BB King’s signature song The Thrill Is Gone as a moody, atmospheric bluesy ballad that builds to a dramatic climax. Eddy Arnold and Cindy Walker’s You Don’t Know Me becomes a torchily evocative ballad in a touching admonishment that displays an equal balance of hurt and dignity, with just the right amount of cry in her voice.
Leiber and Stoller’s hit tune Love Potion #9 is transformed into a sinuously sexy and soulful tale with gospel-ish B3 touches juxtaposed with funky piano. After the Lights Go Down Low gets a low-down and dirty, delightfully syncopated New Orleans feel in a growling, whispering contralto stoked by piano somewhere between barrelhouse and Fats Domino. Speaking of Fats, his classic I’m Walkin’ is a grooving up-tempo romp built on walking bass and sprightly congas.
Three iconic jazz works receive Lyn’s special treatment. George Shearing and George David Weiss’ Lullaby of Broadway is an infectious Cha Cha with Rainer’s clarinet adding to the delightful aura. Rainier also helps drive Howard Bart’s Fly Me to the Moon in crisply delivered bouncy swing mode. Erroll Garner’s Misty is an exquisitely filigreed tour de force – sumptuous, deeply emotional, with Lyn beautifully telling her story in a way that would make Sarah Vaughan smile.
Bluesy balladry in something of a talking style is on hand for DePaul and Cahn’s Teach Me Tonight, colored by some cat-like purrs and growls in the vocal and a gutsy tenor solo and obbligato from Woodard. Dewey’s trumpet plays that role on Adler and Ross’ Hey There, a relaxed swinging jaunt that tugs hard on the leash while Lyn lies perfectly just behind the beat. She takes a more audacious approach to that laying-back delivery on Steiner & Discant’s A Summer Place, dynamically arranged with the ensemble in fervid straight-ahead mode.
This marvelous album “ends” with Comden and Green’s The Party’s Over in easy swing, sprightly rhythmic over staggered wailing bass. But the real conclusion (to both this and the previous album) comes by way of a bonus track. The Gershwins’ masterpiece, The Man I Love is a breathtaking pas de deux as Werner caresses Lyn’s gorgeous vocal like a jeweler romancing a precious gem. The club is closed, the band has split and the pianist and vocalist are there just to share their love of the music and the joy of profound expression. A perfect conclusion to a deeply compelling album filled with love and beauty.
For more information about Lyn, visit www.lynstanley.com