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Sherri Roberts
Twilight World
Brownstone 1996
BRCD 9604

Songs | Personnel | Liner Notes

A debut album, like the first flickering glimmers of a morning sunrise, is a special event, uniquely full of hope and promise. How grand it is to be able to report that this initial recording by vocalist Sherri Roberts is a many-splendored outing that welcomes into the fold one of the most impressive singers to come along in years. Her technical gifts, most notably a crystalline purity of diction that is a delight to the ear, are complemented by the intelligent use of a warm mezzo voice that conveys a lyric's sentiment like an old friend sharing good news. In short, I fully expect this talented lady to turn more than a few discerning heads with the performances collected here.

Raised in Atlanta, Georgia, she first embraced jazz during a stay in Boston (a town that has always smiled on the music, and gifted us over the years with such formidable thrushes as Teddi King and Frances Wayne). Today, based in San Francisco, Sherri has evolved into a true scholar of popular music with a deep appreciation for its heritage. She freely cites such diverse influences as Ella Fitzgerald, Carol Sloane, Helen Merrill, Chet Baker and Shirley Horn. She was even privileged to study briefly with Jeri Southern, forging a simpatico bond that was sadly interrupted by Southern's untimely death.

The labels "cabaret performer" and "jazz singer" are needlessly constricting when applied to a versatile artist like Sherri Roberts. She has an adventuresome repertoire, and can roam through both Tin Pan Alley and the unconventional charts of more modern day talents with equal facility and charm.

"The arrangements for this album were fairly spontaneous," she recalls. "The music was put in front of the musicians about a week before the recording." Fortunately, the players joining her in the studio were also talents of the first order. Musical direction and the majority of the arrangements were placed in the worthy hands of bassist Harvie Swartz, noted for both his work as a group leader and his collaborations with vocalist Sheila Jordan. Other arrangements and ideas came from imaginative and dexterous pianist Mark Soskin, who can proudly boast of being one of tenor sax titan Sonny Rollins' preferred side men. The studio crew was capably fleshed out by Jeff Williams on drums, Keith Underwood, flute, Lenny Hochman, bass clarinet, Anabelle Hoffman, cello, and Bob Ward, guitar.

The title track, "Twilight World," is an all too seldom heard gem, with a lovely melody by Marian McPartland and typically evocative lyrics by the master, Johnny Mercer. You might recall a fine recording of this song by Tony Bennett some years ago, but Sherri succeeds in making this property entirely her own. In a gracious note, Ms. McPartland herself praised this performance as "very musical and altogether pleasant to listen to."

"I Remember You" is another inspired Johnny Mercer lyric, intro duced in 1942 by Dorothy Lamour in the Paramount musical The Fleet's In. The words and accents are remarkably "singer friendly," and Sherri obviously enjoys caressing the pretty open-vowel sounds in a manner slightly reminiscent of the wonderful June Christy.

"Very Early" is something else entirely, a technically daunting instrumental from the brilliant Bill Evans, with lyrics later added by Carol Hall. "Piano players can't even play that one in tune," quipped Harvie Swartz. "It's a tough one." Both Sherri and Mark Soskin meet the challenges flawlessly.

"Roundabout" was often cited by composer Vernon Duke as one of his two personal favorites (along with the perennial Autumn in New York) from among his many outstanding tunes. Sherri was captivated by Ogden Nash's lyric, a bittersweet story of someone unlucky in love, which she does full justice.

"This Happy Madness" is the other side of the relationship coin, a buoyant bossa nova from Antonio Carlos Jobim, with a giddily romantic English lyric by Gene Lees. The alto flute work of Keith Underwood contributes mightily to this infectious performance.

The instrumentation on "This Is New" is also key to the finished result As Sherri ably sells a truly surrealistic lyric (recall that this song was introduced by Gertrude Lawrence during a dream sequence in the 1941 musical play Lady in the Dark), the Klezmer tinged clarinet of Lenny Hochman adds to an ambience that Sherri properly dubbed "Afro-Judaic, with some babaganoush on the side!"

"Memphis in June" is a favorite from the Hoagy Carmichael songbook, graced by Paul Francis Webster with the kind of lyrics that make the tune an experience you can taste, smell and feel. Sherri, with a storehouse of Southern memories, is an ideal candi date to conduct the down-home images straight to the heart of even the most jaded Yankee listener.

Perhaps on no other tune in this collection are Sherri's interpretive powers given a finer showcase than on "Emily," a gorgeous Johnny Mandel melody enhanced by yet another brilliant set of Johnny Mercer Iyrics that was featured in the 1964 film The Americanization of Emily. It's a seemingly odd choice for a female vocalist that Sherri transforms into a natural, approaching the sentiment from a third person standpoint and wringing out every last drop of beauty in a lilting, waltz-like performance that is sure to linger in your memory.

Some time ago, Sherri decided that an intriguing performance concept would be an extended set of songs about springtime (ideally to be performed during that most verdant season), which she entitled "Suddenly It's Spring." Excerpted from that cycle here are her versions of that title song and "Take a Chance on Spring," a bebop romp by Tadd Dameron that allows for bracing interaction between pianist Soskin and drummer Jeff Williams.

The album concludes on a high note with Sherri's richly textured performance of her own Iyric to Dave Brubeck's "Summer Song," here entitled "Song of Summer." Inspired by a solo interpretation of this tune by pianist Jessica Williams, Sherri used that arrangement as a point of departure and crafted a piece intended to convey the "lush heaviness" of her childhood's southern summers. Needless to add, she succeeded in winning fashion.

One can only hope that this collection will be the first of many visits to the melodic twilight world of Sherri Roberts. If you love good music, it's a richly rewarding, very pleasant place to spend some quality time.

—Joseph F. Laredo, popular music historian for Capitol, PolyGram, MCA labels, etc.

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