Mary Stallings celebrates her 80th birthday in 2019. It’s worth pointing this out (the liner notes do so, twice), because you’d never know it by listening to this album. Her career has encompassed work with Cal Tjader, Dizzy Gillespie and the Count Basie Orchestra and, more recently, time with Monty Alexander and Geri Allen.
Stallings’ voice remains strong, her style is cool and swinging, her bandmates are some of the best on the mainstream jazz scene and the songs collected here are for the most part Songbook classics given freshness by the arrangements of pianist David Hazeltine. The combination is a winning one.
Lover Man and Tadd Dameron’s Lady Bird are Latin-influenced groovers, Blue Monk is a laid-back, late-night song driven by Joe Farnsworth’s relaxed drumming, Ill Wind couples Stallings’ voice with Eddie Henderson’s muted trumpet on Hazeltine’s slow, bluesy arrangement. Prelude To A Kiss gets an uptempo arrangement with Farnsworth and bassist David Williams providing punchy forward motion as Henderson and Vincent Herring add melodic solos and the singer maintains a noteworthy restraint.
It would have been intriguing to hear Stallings tackling less familiar songs rather than these, for the most part, well-worn standards. After all, there are plenty of songs waiting to be sung that don’t already exist in a thousand versions and many of them are deserving of the attentions of a talent like Stallings.
Stolen Moments; Lover Man; Blue Monk; Ill Wind; While We’re Young; Lady Bird; When I Close My Eyes; Prelude To A Kiss; Third Time Is The Charm; ‘Round Midnight; Soul Mates; Give Me The Simple Life; Sugar (65.00)
Stallings (v); Eddie Henderson (t); Vincent Herring (as, ts); David Hazeltine (p); David Williams (b); Joe Farnsworth (d); Daniel Sadownick (pc). New York, 6 December 2018.
Smoke Sessions Records SSR-1903