To say that there is no piano playing singer like Shirley Horn might sound like a tired cliché. But how else do you explain what just happens to a ballad when Horn plays those ghostly piano lines, illuminated by silvery left-hand harmonies; then sing the words with ethereal, hushed lyricism? How do you explain that in song after song, she plays the piano and accompanies herself as if she were choreographing a ballet score and dancing in the lead at the same time? Of course you would have had to experience this first hand, crammed into the confines of a steamy club, or by a large concert stage, simply bathed in the beauty of her songs.
Throughout her years, one discerning performance after another, Shirley Horn crafted a reputation for being an uncompromising artist who approaches a score with a compact voice, with a perennially youthful bloom in the middle and upper registers. Her singular mixture of innocence and anticipation sensitively reflects her character’s first blush with love and the eventual dénouement of the song. Horn’s phrasing is impeccable and she invariably creates a unique rhythm of the ebb and flow of lyrical vocal lines perfectly matched to an equally singular deconstruction of the music’s melody. One is immediately aware that Horn is singing in her own incomparably fluid and eloquently modulated style of Jazz. The character of her voice, her articulation and interpretative temperament is so seductive that audiences of adoring fans and musicians, such as Sheila Jordan, Miles Davis and Charlie Haden were all inexorably drawn to her artistry.
Listening to Randy Weston’s ‘Hi-Fly’, one is struck by the discreetly plush instrumental sonority of her playing. She makes all of the melodic splendour coalesce around the sumptuous, but luminous soundscape of the vocal repertoire. Her seminal versions of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘Meditação’ and ‘The Boy From Ipanema’ are legion. The sensuous curves of the songs are conveyed in a spectrum of moods and a wealth of understanding and apt vocal inflection. Nowhere is this more alluring than on her take on ‘Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be?)’. All of these songs are sung in a trio with Charles Ables and Steve Williams, both of who share an almost secret intimacy with Shirley Horn.
And then there is the familiar, ingenuity of the music’s restoration. In yet another sleight of hand, the engineers at Resonance Records have brought to life a little-known masterpiece; an almost hour-long performance at the Four Queens Hotel in Las Vegas. George Klabin’s and Fran Gala’s results befit the label’s audiophile status, creating a sonic space that merges the immediacy of a dance hall with the vibrancy of a concert hall.
Track List: Hi-Fly; You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To; Meditation (Meditação); The Boy From Ipanema; Isn’t It Romantic; Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be?) Something Happened To Me; Just For The Thrill; Blues For Big Scotia.
Personnel: Shirley Horn: vocals and piano; Charles Ables: bass; Steve Williams: drums.
Running time: 52:45