Cheryl Bentyne, veteran songbird of the world renowned Manhattan Transfer, steps into the solo spotlight for a brilliant followup to her acclaimed 2004 Telarc debut, Talk of the Town. Her new album, Let Me Off Uptown, pays tribute to the legendary voice and music of Anita O'Day.
One of the most hard-swinging vocalists in the annals of jazz, O'Day imbued every song she sang with a unique tonal quality, a compelling improvisational style and an innate sense of rhythm. Launching her career in the 1940s as a vocalist for high-profile bandleaders like Gene Krupa, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton, O'Day later struck out on her own and reached even greater heights with her pivotal 1955 recording, This Is Anita. She sang at numerous festivals throughout the 50s, and appeared in a documentary of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival that elevated her to international status. After conquering some personal demons in the '60s, she returned to work and continues to perform to this day.
Enter Cheryl Bentyne, one of the few vocalists on the current jazz scene with the prowess to invoke the same muse that inspired O'Day. The original suggestion for Let Me Off Uptown came from Bill Traut, Bentyne's manager who played saxophone for O'Day during a string of Midwestern dates during the mid-1940s. In recent years, Traut has come to recognize a certain quality in Bentyne's voice that is reminiscent of a young O'Day.
"Bill heard the similarities in their voices," says pianist Corey Allen, who produced the new album (and wrote the rhythm section arrangements based on O'Day's original recordings). "He felt that Cheryl was the right singer to do Anita justice. Like Anita, Cheryl thoroughly understands the American songbook. Both started their careers as 'band singers,' and both can swing. Bill has great insight."
In preparation for the recording, Bentyne, Traut and Allen listened to nearly everything O'Day ever recorded. "Anita's ability to deliver a song is undeniably great, but it's her phrasing that sets her apart from other singers," says Traut. Bentyne captures this unique phrasing, seamlessly merging O'Day's unique style with her own and coming up with a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Highlights of the 13-track set include the title track, a lighthearted duet with vocalist/trumpeter Jack Sheldon (who returns later in the set for "The Man with a Horn" and "Whisper Not"); a swinging rendition of "Honeysuckle Rose" propelled by Kevin Axt's clean walking bass lines; and a mellow reading of "Skylark," quietly underscored by Allen, Axt and drummer Dave Tull.
"It Shouldn't Happen To a Dream" features Bentyne at her most torchy, while "Tea for Two" is a much more rhythmic and frenetic track that showcases one vocalist at her technical peak paying tribute to another at the same zenith.
In addition to the versatile rhythm team of Allen, Axt and Tull, other players on Let Me Off Uptown include guitarists Grant Geissman and Larry Koonse, saxophonists Lanny Morgan and Pete Christlieb, and trombonist Bob McChesney.
At the center of it all is Cheryl Bentyne, one of the finest vocalists of her generation, respectfully tipping her hat to an equally fine vocalist of an earlier generation. "Cheryl is truly a great singer," says Allen. "Her voice is in top form. I am lucky to have produced this CD at this time in her career. In addition, let me say that this rhythm section is without a doubt the most talented group of musicians I have ever played with. They are also the smartest group of people I've ever had the pleasure to be around."