Carol Mennie
 
  Carol Mennie makes her maiden voyage as a leader on I’M NOT A SOMETIME THING, a marvelous mixture of jazz and popular standards and originals with words and music by her producer and long time partner, guitarist/arranger/composer Dom Minasi. Mennie, who made her recording debut last year with a moving rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” on Minasi’s critically acclaimed Time Will Tell cd, here has her mature vocal stylings surrounded by the guitarist’s inventive arrangements which showcase her versatile voice in a variety of settings, accompanied by a superb band featuring Minasi, cellist Tomas Ulrich, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Jay Rosen, with special guests Patience Higgins on saxophones, Valery Ponomarev on trumpet and flugel horn and Tom McGrath on percussion.

The opening Jazz, Jazz, Jazz is an appealing anthem written by Minasi specifically for Mennie in the early 90’s, to supply the singer’s songbook with a jazz waltz -- the form which, as the lyrics note, had been missing from her repertoire. The introductory verse “I’m a singer of songs/I like to sing my songs whenever I can/It’s even better when you have a great band” is a particularly appropriate beginning for the date, spelling out the singer’s philosophy and approach to music. Higgins’ soprano saxophone and Minasi’s guitar jazz things up with nicely as Mennie sings brightly over the swinging rhythm section.

You Don’t Know What Love Is, one of jazz’s most recorded standards, is given a unique treatment in this distinctive arrangement that begins with Mennie’s intimate reading of the Gene De Paul/Don Ray lyric joined by Minasi’s lone acoustic guitar, before moving into a second chorus accompanied by bass and bongo, recalling Peggy Lee’s Fever. Higgins soprano saxophone obbligato brings the rhythm section in and the tempo up for a bluesy straight ahead section in which the singer has some fun with the seriousness of the song’s words.

Rodgers and Hart’s He Was Too Good For Me is a poignant duet by Mennie and Minasi. Mennie’s deliberately torpid reading of her remorseful lines ignites a cool flame of smoldering regret and unfulfilled desire making the burning fire of this archetypal torch song all too painful and real.
Mennie’s passionate performance of Ann Ronnell’s Willow Weep For Me is set against the intensity of Minasi’s artful string arrangement featuring his own guitar, Filano’s bass and Ulrich’s cello, driven by Jay Rosen’s drums. Mennie’s shrieking out chorus matches Minasi’s own avant countrified solo in shaking loose the branches on this old chestnut.

Brown Eyes is a beautiful ballad by Minasi with music composed by the guitarist in the mid eighties and words written a decade later. The song opens ominously with bowed bass and cello, emphasizing the subject’s haunting quality, movingly expressed by Mennie’s smoky recitation of the lyrics. Valery Ponomarev’s muted trumpet solo and obbligati further enhance the tune’s moody emotion.

Minasi’s I’m Not a Sometime Thing title track is a bluesy swinger that Mennie delivers with a finger snapping voice of experience that is alternately swaggering and coy. Ponomarev is back on trumpet and Higgins switches to tenor to give the band a classic sound, reminiscent of the Jazz Messengers, which pushes the singer to deliver one of her most powerfully pleasing performances of the record.

Mennie begins In The Wee Small Hours with a sensitive reading of the rarely heard verse of the Bob Hilliard/David Mann romantic ode to nocturnal longing, accompanied only by electric guitar, before launching into the stirring arrangement built around Ulrich’s opulent cello and featuring another excellent solo by Minasi.

Who Needs You is a novelty number by Minasi offering a bit of comic relief to the serious tone of much of the date’s other selections. Starting with this silly samba’s first hilarious line of “Who needs another bossa nova?” Mennie places her tongue firmly in her cheek and keeps it there throughout, singing lines like “Who needs another saxophone blowing in my ear / The sound of trumpets always there” only to be answered by Higgins’ tenor and Ponomarev’s flugel horn on this paean to the partners jazz musicians.

Billy Barnes’ sad show song Too Long At The Fair is one of those Broadway standards that has received surprisingly spare attention from jazz vocalists. Mennie’s affecting performance, reminiscent of Sarah Vaughn’s classic rendition of Send In The Clowns, mines the lyrics for all the distressing ironies that are further enhanced by Minasi’s occasionally satirical narrative arrangement.

Angela is a serious bossa nova by Minasi, one with a melody written many years ago paired with a recently penned lyric. The composition’s mysterious mood makes the music sound as if it might belong to a James Bond movie soundtrack, particularly when Mennie breathily intones the words “her smile, her lips are dangerous.” Ulrich and Minasi both complement the singer’s stirring performance with their own compelling solos.

Mennie pulls out all the stops for an exciting finale of Lover Man. This uptempo workout on the Ram Ramirez warhorse shows off the singer’s swing in a fiery Minasi arrangement that also features fine solos by Higgins, Ponomarev, Stevens and the guitarist at his wildest.
I’M NOT A SOMETIME THING is an impressive debut by a seasoned singer with a distinctive style that is all of her own who isn’t afraid to show it off. Hopefully, from now on hearing Carol Mennie sing should be something more of a regular thing.