When a critic praises an artist's choice of repertoire for its depth or breadth or eclecticism, it usually means this: "Y'know, I liked those songs too."
So I was about to say "bravo" to Sherri Roberts for accompanying well-worn standards with overlooked and unusual material, when so many jazz vocalists seem to subsist solely on a diet of the same dozen old tunes. Yet Roberts does more than put together a clever set-list. She has a distinctive, stylish vocal gift that animates her memorable repertoire.
Richard Rodgers seems to be a favorite, as one can tell from her swelling, elongated vocal lines on "With a Song in My Heart," or her vibrant, uptempo "People Will Say We're in Love," which plays host to guest saxman Chris Potter's ebullient licks. The poignant melody of "It Never Entered My Mind" is set on an asymmetrical vamp, artfully arranged by Sonny Rollins alumni, pianist Mark Soskin. This tune features Roberts' full complement of accompanists: Soskin, Potter, bassist Harvie Swartz, drummer Danny Gottlieb, percussionist Memo Acevedo, cellist Erik Friedlander and violinist Gregor Hubner. (In roughly the same category comes her take on Cole Porter's "Dream Dancing," fleshed out with her blithe, sweeping delivery and Potter's erupting solo.)
But Roberts doesn't shrink from the challenge of lyric-ized versions of bop-and-beyond themes, like her album opener of Zoot Sims/Gerry Mulligan theme "The Red Door," here retitled "Zoot Walks In" with lyrics by Dave Frishberg. With Potter in full-bodied bop mode, Roberts' intonation seems indebted to Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. (In fact, Roberts also sings Jon Hendricks' words to Gigi Gryce's elaborate blues tune "Social Call.") She gloriously remakes Dave Brubeck's Time Out classic "Strange Meadowlark" with piano and cello attending its lyrical, descending melody line, and lyrics from a 1980s Meredith D'Ambrosio version.
Roberts is backed by a trio on Hoagy Carmichael's "How Little We Know," with warm vocals flowing over Swartz' artfully loping basslines. She also takes a wonderful spin through Bob Dorough's swinging, starry-eyed "I've Got Just About Everything."
With Soskin's expansive arrangement of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Two Kites," Roberts' sensuous vibrato traces its free-flowing melody, and entwines her wordless vocals with the strings. (A feral Hubner solo tops it off.) Roberts' voice also aligns itself with Swartz' bowed bass on the swooning melody of "Middle of the Night." And on the title cut, Henry Mancini's "Dreamsville," Roberts is heard in the gracefully arcing tones with which she creates sound -- with the added twist of seemingly tangled rhythms behind her.
Or, for a shorter version of a Dreamsville review: Y'Know, I liked these songs.
Drew Wheeler, Jazz Central Station
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