Barbara Levy Daniels

At the tender age of 12, young vocalist Barbara Levy Daniels was auditioning for ABC Paramount Records. Its president had invited no less a personage than Ray Charles to listen in and give an opinion. “Sign her right away” was The Genius’ verdict. That was over 50 years ago, followed by a number of singles and a 30 year practice in psychotherapy. Over the past 15 years, Barbara managed to find the time to create two highly acclaimed albums and now offers further testimony to Ray’s endorsement with her new CD Love Lost and Found.

With a voice of liquid gold, Barbara fully demonstrates a quality of all truly great singers – absolute confidence in both her instrument and the manner in which she wields it. On this CD, she takes on 13 classics from the Great American Songbook, and in her early champion’s manner, she makes each of these often-performed pieces entirely her own. Her vocal style here can be comfortably compared to the great saxophone song interpreters - like Hawkins, Webster and Young - in using the lyrics as a launching point for her musical interpretation. They inspire the story she tells, but she’s never confined by them. The storytelling essence of Barbara’s artistry is explained by her statement: "While I listen to life stories by day, I sing about life stories when I perform."

Full-bodied and resonant, her voice is highly emotive, often marked by the type of cry that is heard in the styles of Johnny Hodges and Gene Ammons, subtly adding to the emotional impact without even a hint of affectation. Never even remotely straining to hit each tone directly in its heart, she roots in there and allows the resonance to expand outward in a powerful aural pastiche.

While Barbara does not employ her scatting style on this CD, the music is unquestionably jazz. What sets the non-scatting jazz vocalist apart from a regular singer of songs are an inherent sense of rhythmic creativity and interpretative freedom interacting with a supporting group that provides an environment for expressive development. All of that is in full bloom on Love Lost and Found. The ensemble is comprised of extraordinary musicians who are not only topflight artists, but who also understand the subtleties demanded by their supporting roles and how to bring total creativity to the musical concept. The empathy here is so powerful that they sound like they’ve all been playing with Barbara for many years.

Pianist John di Martino is always fully in sync with Barbara’s vision at each moment, prodding, enhancing and embracing each note and phrase and never falling into the obvious choices that can occur in vocal accompaniment. Bassist Boris Kozlov’s deeply wooded tone provides the heartbeat of the music - his heavily syncopated rhythmic mastery often providing the nucleus around which the track is built. His full-bodied sound contrasts beautifully with Barbara’s voice and his phrasing both propels and supports the music. Drummer Shinnosuke Takahashi blends sublime subtlety with rhythmic dynamism that anchors each piece perfectly. Cornetist Warren Vaché is present on eight tracks, usually muted, and a master of lyricism and impeccable taste whether playing obbligato or soloing. Guitarist Paul Meyers adds zest, sparkle and color to three pieces as well. Vaché and di Martino share all the solos, always succinct and in sharp focus.

The repertoire has been artfully selected from pieces composed between 1927 and 1944, but there is not a wisp of nostalgia or obviousness in the interpretations of these beloved songs. The feeling is highly contemporary and in the moment; immediate and fresh. Also serving as musical director and arranger, di Martino has crafted 13 gems; each cut and designed as a unique piece of music that is also integrated seamlessly into the album’s essence.

Irving Berlin’s delicate ballad I Got Lost in His Arms showcases Barbara’s mastery of time and space as she uses syncopation, lingers tantalizingly behind the beat and slides into rubato time at will, smearing and spreading tones while swirling around the rhythm section. Berlin’s Say It Isn’t So is given a Bossa Nova treatment, with guitar and piano playing off each other nicely over subtle dynamic bass and drums and Barbara’s voice dancing within the joyful setting.

A Brazilian feel is again on tap for Rodgers and Hart’s Where or When, a delicious samba with the guitar-enhanced rhythm section spreading a gossamer blanket for Barbra’s voice and di Martino’s solo. Meyers’ guitar takes a Freddie Green-ish angle on Mills, Hudson and Delange’s infectious Moonglow, a delightfully syncopated, easy bouncer enhanced by Takahashi’s whisk-broom shuffle drumming – respectfully evoking a modern feel for an older era.

A similarly transportive mode is created for It’s the Talk of the Town (Symes, Neilburg and Livingston). A torchy, grooving ballad with gently stride-ish piano and a muted cornet solo. There’s an afterhours feel of musicians playing for each other with the listeners as fortunate bystanders. That late night vibe is also on hand for two other ballads. Carmichael and Washington’s lovely The Nearness of You is a touching piece with voice and piano reminiscent of some of those great Lester Young/Teddy Wilson recordings. Mean to Me (Turk and Ahlert) is a ballad in a bluesy swing groove with Barbara’s sultry vocal prodded by di Martino’s piano and a delightful muted Vaché solo. A deeper blue is the tone for Ann Ronell’s Willow Weep for Me. Wailing cornet with di Martino’s slow barrelhouse left hand and Otis Spann-flavored right sets a flawless blues mood for Barbara’s shout – down home, uptown style.

Rodgers and Hart’s My Heart Stood Still is a smoothly swinging item embellished by mellow cornet. Straightforward swing is the theme for Burke and Van Heusen’s It Could Happen to You with Kozlov’s syncopated walking and Vaché’s obbligato around Barbara’s deeply grooved vocal. Comes Love (Stept, Tobias and Brown) is a jaunty swinger – playful, straightforward and delightfully rhythmic. Warren and Gordon’s There Will Never Be Another You kicks it up a notch, with Barbara in full swing mode, Vaché on open cornet and the band surging on all cylinders. The album closes with Lewis and Coots’ For All We Know, a powerfully evocative piece stoked by Takahashi’s Bolero-like drumming.

From the celestial choir over which he undoubtedly presides, Ray Charles is smiling down upon Love Lost and Found, saying…. “You see?......What’d I Say!”

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