Marty Elkins Swings Oldies in New Release

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FAT DADDY / ALTER-MITCHELL: You Turned the Tables on Me. RAZAF: On Revival Day. WALLER-RAZAF: How Can You Face Me? OTIS-OWENS: That’s All There is to That. POWELL-SAMUELS-WHITCUP: It’s Too Hot for Words. RAYE-DePAUL-CARTER: Cow Cow Boogie.  GREEN-HEYMAN: I Cover the Waterfront.* REID: It’s a Pity to Say Goodnight. COSLOW-JOHNSTON: My Old Flame. MEDLEY-SANFORD: Fat Daddy.* + BLOOM-KOEHLER: I Can’t Face the Music. PINKARD-MITCHELL: Sugar. STRACHEY-MARVELL: These Foolish Things. JOHNSON: Trav’lin’ All Alone* / Marty Elkins, voc; Jon-Erik Kellso, tpt; James Chirillo,  gtr; Joel Diamond, *pno/org/+a-sax; Steve Ash, pno; Lee Hudson, bs; Taro Okamoto, dm/tamb; +Leopold Fleming, perc / Nagel Heyer Records CD 124

This CD, due out July 6, spotlights East Coast jazz singer Marty Elkins (born in Jersey City) in a program of older swing tunes (she calls it “traditional jazz,” but that label belongs to the New Orleans fans). This follows on the heels of her prior release, Walkin’ By the River, which contained such older songs as If I Could Be With You, There’ll Be Some Changes Made, Comes Love (one of my favorite Helen Forrest-Artie Shaw recordings), Runnin’ Wild, When My Sugar Walks Down the Street, I’ll Never Be the Same and Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby.

Elkins has a pleasant, light voice of the type once heard with regularity during the period she prefers, running from Annette Hanshaw to Lee Wiley. Her sense of swing and rhythmic timing contains some elements of Billie Holiday (her ability to fraction the beat), Helen Ward (her appealing, open-voiced approach) and Anita O’Day (her scatting), though she isn’t as musically adventurous as the latter. It’s also a very pretty voice, something you don’t hear much of nowadays, and her backup band really swings—just listen to the way Elkins and the band tear through Andy Razaf’s On Revival Day, a song I can’t recall any contemporary jazz singer doing in the past half-century. On this number Elkins really opens up her voice and does a tremendous job of sounding like a black singer. Veteran swing trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso is also wonderful on this one, playing a plunger-muted solo with echoes of Cootie Williams, and at the end the group in the recording studio breaks out into spontaneous and well-deserved applause.

If anything, Elkins does a jazzier vocal on How Can You Face Me? than Fats Waller himself. Her creamy voice is, tonally, unique; she doesn’t remind me of anyone from the ‘30s or ‘40s that I’ve ever heard, not even such top-drawer jazz singers of the time as Ella, Mildred Bailey or Alice Babs, although she does possess some of Bailey’s wonderful ability to “ride” the beat. In addition, Elkins’ rhythm section is sheer perfection, playing together with the kind of tightness one heard from the old Count Basie and Glenn Miller bands—a completely integrated piano-bass-guitar-drums sound that I really miss in most jazz groups nowadays. Tara Okamoto is a surprisingly understated drummer, clearly more modern in approach than the Jo Joneses, Gene Krupas or Sid Catletts of the swing era, though occasionally I missed the kick those older drummers could give an ensemble. Don Raye’s old tune about a doped-up cowboy “raised on loco weed,” Cow Cow Boogie, is given an almost boogie-calypso beat and really cooks.

Elkins’ rendition of I Cover the Waterfront is unique for her inclusion of the seldom-heard opening refrain before she sings the much more famous chorus. Kellso plays a lovely solo on this one with a standard mute, and in the following chorus Elkins does a splendid job of displacing the beat and improvising on the melody (a rare gift, much overlooked by modern singers). In Billy Reid’s wonderful, swinging It’s a Pity to Say Goodnight, Elkins channels a little of Ella Fitzgerald’s style but filters it through her own sensibilities.

I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive about hearing My Old Flame, a song so corny that, along with Neil Moret’s Chloe, I can’t even imagine it sung seriously since I grew up on Spike Jones’ versions, but Elkins puts it through her Billie Holiday filter and thus gives it some dignity and swing. (I felt the same way about The Glow-Worm until I heard the Mills Brothers redefine it.) James Chirillo plays an excellent guitar solo on this one, and thank the stars, he plays it in a jazz style and not a rock style. In Fat Daddy, Elkins and pianist Joel Diamond give the music a Professor Longhair beat—R&B calypso-blues, complete with trumpet and alto sax playing the New Orleans-styled riffs, and in the second half Elkins does a credible job of once again sounding like an African-American singer. Fats Domino, eat your heart out!

I Can’t Face the Music is a nice, laid-back tune given a laid-back rendition, and the old Maceo Pinkard standard Sugar is taken at a nice medium tempo. These Foolish Things is given in ballad style, and here the swing is subtle and understated, riding over the soft cushion of Diamond’s organ. Elkins stays in a relaxed groove for the finale, Trav’lin All Alone.

A very fine disc by an obviously very gifted singer; this one is a winner.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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