Scozzesi’s Rich Mezzo a Welcome Surprise

Scozzesi

HERE COMES THE SUN / PORTER: It’s Alright With Me.2 McHUGH-FIELDS: I’m in the Mood for Love.2 NEWMAN: You Can Leave Your Hat On.1 TIOMKIN-WASHINGTON: Wild is the Wind.1 HARRISON: Here Comes the Sun.2 ELLINGTON-DeLANGE-MILLS; Solitude.1 RIO-WINKLER-AMARILLO; Tequila.1 HODGES-FRISHBERG: A Little Taste.2 HAGEN-ROGERS-TORMÉ: Harlem Nocturne2 / Dolores Scozzesi, voc; Nolan Shaheed, tpt; 1Quinn Johnson, pn/Hammond B3 org; 2Andy Langham, pn/melodica; Larry Koonse, Dori Amarillo, gtr; Lyman Medeiros, bs; Kevin Winard, dm / Café Pacific Records CPCD 14050

Dolores Scozzesi, a veteran jazz singer who got her start as an intermission singer at Budd Friedman’s Improv Comedy club back in the 1990s, gives here the kind of performance I really like: rhythmic singing with a feel for the jazz beat and, surprisingly, a rich mezzo voice rather than the usual soprano. Even from the opener, It’s Alright With Me, you know you’re in for a treat, but the way she does I’m in the Mood for Love will knock you out. And her backup band(s) are excellent, too. Coincidence: just the day before I listened to this CD, I reviewed the Clare Fischer Latin Big Band’s ¡Ritmo! album, and lo and behold, pianist Quinn Johnson played on several tracks of that album, too.

But as good as Johnson and alternate pianist/melodica player Andy Langham are, it’s Scozzesi who draws your attention. I wish she would sing “out” a bit more—she certainly has enough voice to do so—but apparently a “soft” approach has come to dominate West Coast jazz singing, thus she maintains a mezzo-piano throughout most of the set. In Dimitri Tiomkin’s Wild is the Wind she does a bit of scatting, and here she does open up the voice more, to wonderful effect. And on the very last note of the song, Scozzesi and the band suddenly change keys. George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun is given a fast Latin beat, with Scozzesi spacing her notes in an interesting rhythmic manner. There’s also a live YouTube video of her singing this song, and in that she opens up the voice a little more.

Lyman Medeiros’ bowed bass introduces the one ballad on the set, Duke Ellington’s early classic Solitude, but even in a ballad setting Scozzesi swings in her low-key way. Medeiros also has a rare solo in this number, showing a fine harmonic sense, and Johnson plays an understated piano solo. I had to smile hearing her sing lyrics to the old 1950s instrumental Tequila (lampooned by Spike Jones as Pimples and Braces). Johnson plays the Hammond B2 organ on this one in a good Wild Bill Davis imitation, and Scozzesi gives her singing a quasi-Spanish pronunciation.

I have to admit that I had never heard Johnny Hodges’ A Little Taste, here with lyrics by the marvelous Dave Frishberg, but Scozzesi sings it with tongue planted firmly in cheek. (An interesting thought just struck me: in certain places in her voice, Scozzesi’s tone reminded me of Lorraine Feather.) And just listen to her sure command of rhythm in this track…so sure and hip that it makes you smile.

The rather brief (34-minute) album ends with a vocal version by Mel Tormé of one of the best Duke Ellington songs not written by Ellington, Earle Hagen’s Harlem Nocturne. Scozzesi and the band bring the tempo way down and again give it a Latin beat. What a nice track!

I think you’ll really love this album. It’s perfect make-you-smile music for a gray, dull day.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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