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Songs of Leonard Bernstein & Irving Berlin

Alison Bentley

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British singer Alison Bentley's third album is devoted to the songbooks of Leonard Bernstein and Irving Berlin. Not all that original, you might say, but she did make a few unusual selections like "Reaching for the Moon" and "For the Very First Time" to spice up the track list, while hanging on to crowd-pleasers like "America" and "Puttin' on the Ritz" to make sure the listener doesn't get lost. Bentley wears her deep alto voice like a silk dress. Sensual and warm, she displays restraint in her vocal ornaments and ear-pleasing accuracy. The backup band consists of pianist Dave Frankel, bassist Dave Jones, and drummer Paul Cavaciuti, with Steve Waterman and Martin Speake adding trumpet and alto sax solos to a few songs. The arrangements stretch the envelope of some of these familiar tunes, but they never break out of the vocal jazz mold. Take for example "Puttin' on the Ritz": The singer puts a lot of bounciness in it, turning it boppier than swing. The same applies to "Cool," given a mischievous facelift. "America," concluding the album, is turned into a surprising samba. But the highlight is "Blue Skies," sung with heart and embellished by a creative trumpet solo. Some jazz fans will say that Bentley's voice lacks distinctive features, but she does a more than convincing job both as singer and arranger, which is enough to make this CD quite enjoyable. ~ François Couture, Rovi


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