|JAZZ REVIEW; Singing That Sizzles but Is Never Soigné
Published: 04 - 04 - 2002 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 1 , Page 3 NEW YORK TIMES
By BEN RATLIFF
The high-vernacular jazz singing that Carla Cook practices isn't given much of a commercial chance; what record companies consider marketable is singing that creates a soigné cafe-society fantasy or that resists classification.
Helped by the independent label Max Jazz, which specializes in vocalists and has released two of her albums since 1999, Ms. Cook has an appeal that is at first more everyday and earthbound. On Monday at the Blue Note, she ran through verses and choruses with standard readings, delivering the words in a crisp, relaxed manner, a bit like Betty Carter opening her songs.
At the appointed chorus break, her backing trio -- Andy Milne on piano, Vashon Johnson on bass and George Gray on drums -- opened up each song. They improvised together, reharmonizing the tune or going into vamps. Mr. Milne, especially, played one witty solo after another, spacious, hard-edged, with traces of dissonance. (In a bluesy version of a hymn, ''Hold On to God's Unchanging Hand,'' Mr. Milne interpolated a little bit of Duke Ellington's ''I'm Beginning to See the Light.'')
Ms. Cook followed them into the breach with scat singing. And here she took off and revealed her gifts, singing loudly and with real invention, making the tone of her voice shift from deep and guttural to thin and clarion, and firing off percussive syllables.
She was using gospel phrasing, rhythm-and-blues phrasing and whatever else sounded right to her. In Marvin Gaye's ''Inner City Blues,'' she began a scat improvisation with a trombonelike tone, imitating swells and fades, as well as sliding pitch. It was a true jazz solo in an R&B song, with no compromise made on either side.
Toward the end of that solo, as she sneaked in a few rounds of the chorus from Funkadelic's ''One Nation Under a Groove,'' she stopped and seemed to have impressed herself. ''Ooh!'' she reacted. ''This is jazz?''
Published: 04 - 04 - 2002 , Late Edition - Final , Section E , Column 1 , Page 3