Susie Arioli is proving to be one of Canada’s greatest assets, a vocalist of strong personality who puts musical values first, yet can create both drama and spontaneity on stage and in the recording studio. Moreover, Arioli has a delicious, voluptuous and rich-toned contralto, without a hint of a wobble, which can evoke exactly the kind of lyrical drama which these lovely standards and love songs command. I cannot say more than her account reminds me of Helen Merrill, whose work is richly satisfying. I am referring to Merrill’s great 1956 Mercury recording, Dream of Love on which Gil Evans participated as arranger an conductor as did musicians such as Hank Jones, Oscar Pettiford and a slew of other stars. If you think this association with Merrill is just a passing recollection, perish the thought.
Spring , produced by John Snyder, has music arranged by the great Don Thompson, who also plays piano and vibraphone. There are other icons of Canadian music – drummer Terry Clarke, for instance, as well as bassist Neil Swainson, guitarist Reg Schwager, tenor saxophonist Phil Dwyer, trumpeter Kevin Turcotte and others. Of course, Susie Arioli is the one who is primarily responsible for making this performance memorable, singing with great eloquence and poise whether she is voicing bittersweet jazz ballads (Dearest Darling), perky, sensuous come-hither songs (Lover Boy) or even country ones (Can’t Say No). And there seems no stopping her for the rest of this wonderful repertoire, which Arioli tackles with glowing simplicity and diamantine tone.
The remarkable thing about this recording, quite apart from Susie Arioli’s singing and the band’s matchless accompaniment is that so few of the songs can be identified as commonplace standards. And you might also catch your breath when a particularly wonderful song pops out of the speakers and you find that this is indeed an original by Susie Arioli. This, of course, is one of the things that makes this recorded essay by Arioli something to die for. And the package is beautiful too. A surprise, for me was that Arioli is also a gifted painter and designer; Spring is a fine example, therefore, not only of her deeply beautiful singing, but her extra-musical artistry as well.
Finally, the recorded sound is crisp and has a warmth that not only highlights Arioli’s voice, but the rich textures and tonal colours of this magnificent band. Something tells me that this has much to do with Don Thompson and his innate ability to make ‘good’ things ‘great’.
Track List: Lover Boy; Mean to Me; Dearest Darling; Can’t Say No; Evenin’; Those Lonely, Lonely Nights; I’m the Caring Kind; Me, Myself and I; Spring; Someone Else; Travelin’ Light; After You’re Gone.
Personnel: Don Thompson: piano, vibraphone; Terry Clarke: drums; Neil Swainson: bass; Reg Schwager: guitar; Phil Dwyer: tenor saxophone; Kevin Turcotte: trumpet; Andy Ballantyne: alto saxophone; Shirantha Beddage: baritone saxophone; Kelsley Grant: trombone.