Stacy Sullivan: Stranger in a Dream

| April 5, 2016

Stacy Sullivan

Stranger in a Dream

(Harbinger Records)

April 3, 2016

Reviewed by John Hoglund for Cabaret Scenes

Stacy-Sullivan-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Smoky-voiced Stacy Sullivan brings her signature laid-back delivery to her newest recording. Respected writer David Hajdu (The Nation) explains in his liner notes that the album (aside from being a “self-portrait,”) is “a work of musical portraiture, but one with multiple dimensions.” It is. It is also an homage to Marian McPartland. Sharing the bill with Sullivan is the remarkable jazz arranger/pianist Jon Weber. Ultimately, she shines on this abstract collection of engaging songs. Sullivan and Weber make user-friendly music together that is devoid of affectation. Next to Sullivan, Weber’s contrastingly spare, spiky arrangements accentuate the fluidity of her lush, humming vibrato and long-lined phrasing that imparts a personal connection to everything she sings. It all makes for an intimate and solid album.

As is her strength, she paints wistful canvasses of blithe romance and languid dreams intricately phrased by a serene, jazz-tinged artist who has grown exceptionally in the last few years. This is most obvious when she caresses Duke Ellington/Irving Gordon/Irving Mills’ storied “Prelude to a Kiss” in honor of the late, revered McPartland. Weber’s exceptional piano musings along with Sullivan’s warm alto make this a mesmerizing cut that honors one of the great jazz ladies. This is no accident. One of her recent shows paid expansive tribute to McPartland, as does this compelling disc.

“Stranger in a Dream” (McPartland/Irving Caesar), is hauntingly enhanced by the exceptional accompaniment of Steve Doyle’s driving bass. Their back and forth musical dialogue becomes a waning repartee with piano subtly joining as an afterthought that is as intimate as it can get on a selection worthy of wider attention. “In the Days of Our Love,” (McPartland/Peggy Lee) is a simple little treasure. Sullivan devoted two separate successful shows to both legends who happened to be friends. Her understated, facile reading on this little gem is refined making for an easy listen.

Other highlights on this disc include a bluesy “I’ve Got a Crush on You” (the Gershwins), a plucky “Castles in the Sand” (McPartland/Walter Marks) and a three- song medley by Duke Ellington: “I’m Beginning to See the Light” (with Johnny Hodges/Harry James/Don George); “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” (with Irving Mills); and “Jump for Joy” (with Sid Kuller/Paul Francis Webster). Her versatile vocals and Weber’s occasional tricky rhythmic reverses and rapid mood changes express a vaulting sense of, well, joy not often heard in the introspective realm of night club partners.

The trio of musicians is completed by Nick Russo on guitar and mandolin.

The album is a winner.

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Category: Music, Music Reviews, New York City, New York City Music Reviews, Regional

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