Standards are called standards, I believe, not just because everybody does them, even Rod Stewart ( though to be deathly honest, if I got off on Jimmy Durante's take of "September Song," how can I put Rod the Mod down? I definitely belong to the wrong generation!), but because they tell us something we want to hear. Mind you, whether or not we want to hear it has nothing to do with whether or not it's true. See the pleasantly dunderheaded lyrics to Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane's "On a Clear Day You can See Forever." Don't think I need to say any more.
Katie Bull has a witty, throaty alto (an occasional reference to the divine Ella F. insinuates, but usually in the best taste) and evident talent in composition (see the title bit's "Your dress is so tight/I won't dissect you"; Lorenz Hart, call your office). Humor is another strong suit: see her fleet seconds-long improv during "I Only Have Eyes For You" in which she connects deliciously "avenue" and "you" as if they were the same word. Standards and originals alternate here, and although I like her "I'll Be Seeing You" I believe June Tabor (on her 1999 release A QUIET EYE) 'gets' the tune's kernel a bit more accurately (that of knowing full well - again - that chances are one won't be seeing that much-loved other, ever). Ms. Bull's leaving the door open is, however, a bit more to my taste at this particular time. I'd like to believe if I can! And she makes that work. The original "Leftover Blues" wisely mentions in passing to somebody who might be better off leaving, "Go ahead and eat my Chinese leftovers/ they're always better the next day"; clearly that person to whom she sings has made her feel a bit like leftovers as well. "Watch What Happens," the old Michel Legrand bossa, has exactly the right slip'n'slide, a precisely cascading piano attack (courtesy of the ever-amazing Michael Jefry Stevens; feel free to get any CD he's on with my personal recommendation). Oh, yeah, "On a Clear Day" resides here as well, but Bull and attendant trio Stevens, drummer Matt Wilson and bassist Joe Fonda (somebody get those 3 a Rockefeller grant so they can play together for a solid year!) give it the "After the Rain" treatment (you know, the Coltrane tone poem) and it just doesn't do it for me. Why? I suppose something is being underlined in this take that I don't agree with. The ethereality of such walled-into-the-1960s bric-a-brac as "...how it will astound you/ that the glow of your being outshines every star..." Oh, boy, where do I start? Again. Well, that isn't Ms. Bull and Company's fault. Another Katie composition, "Strange," to a broken minuet says the simplest thing in the most direct way: "I'm feeling very new/ Ah! It's you"). Classic. "My Favorite Things" is the best of the covers here, I think, in that it is a bouncy tempo, nary a care in the world, and Ms. B. shows off how she, like Eve Beglarian, can move her voice between a melody's notes in a very singular fashion. There is probably some fancy word for that method like 'apoggiattura' (don't write and tell me I misspelled that; I know); well, I get a kick out of it. No reference intended. Parenthetically, Ms. Bull's other pianist on this CD, Frank Kimbrough, is no piker either; a light touch, a good sense for the detail and no grace notes unless the composer forgot to put them in. Other bassist Martin Wind, mainstay of the NYU music department, plucks as funky a blues as you can ask for,especially on "Leftover."
Hard to know what to leave out of this review but I'll close with notes on 2 more of Ms. Bull's originals; "Deer Run"has a marvelous bridge ("I'm OK/ I can do this by myself" sung with a quietly intense bravura) and a whooping finish, while "Ashokan Road" ventures into Sting metaphysics (you know, "Fields of Gold," "Fragile," et al) but ends on a neutral note ("I have no answers... one bird flies/ and they all have flown"); simple and heartfelt.
So if your recent purchases of Norah Jones or Nellie McKay CDs have left you wondering what else's out there that you should still hear... start at this one. Nice work, Ms. B and company.
by Kenneth Egbert
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