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Selections from a famous singer-pianist

Shirley Horn's singing and piano seem to make a deliberately strong statement about syncopation as an attribute of classic jazz

Ultimate Shirley Horn: Selected by Diana Krall
Rs 125

Followers of these jazz reviews know by now that Polygram is showcasing the work of jazz masters as picked by and seen through the eyes of younger but established exponents of the same instrument. And so, here is the famous Shirley Horn, singer and pianist, selected for us by the fast-rising singer-pianist Diana Krall, whose new album I've reviewed alongside this one.

Horn defies theory even more than Krall does, seeing that she doesn't improvise much on piano, leave alone with her voice. Only one number (The eagle and me) offers a brief but quite delectable bit of scat singing. But her strong, husky voice is in the best jazz traditions - with a mood that varies from melancholy to mordant, choosing from a wide range of numbers, quiet and slow, happy and perky, or everything in between. Although her piano-playing is strong, matching the mood of the voice, it is basically in the mould of an accompanist since she solos very little. Both her piano work and her singing seem to be making a deliberately strong statement about syncopation as an attribute of classic (swing) jazz. Variations in loudness, especially dramatic intros on piano (as in Hard-hearted Hannah, the vamp of Savannah), add to creating the classic jazz mood.

And then there are the tempo-less pieces on which she drops notes at random moments onto a suspense-filled audience. It's a pity Krall didn't choose what I consider the best example of this technique: Here's to life, a not too distant Grammy winner which belongs to the same Verve catalogue opened up for this collection.

Apart from a quiet and effective drummer joining Horn's piano on the rhythm section, the plus points of this album include the unobtrusiveness of the string section on the three or four numbers where it is present, in contrast to the role of violins on the Krall album. And of course I mustn't forget the improvisations. Several numbers have solos from tenor sax (Hard-hearted Hannah, I wanna be loved and Hit the road, Jack) or trumpet (I fall in love too easily, Do it again, the former sounding like Miles Davis), and on Hit the road, Jack a guitar solo too pitches in.


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