This time, however, Lauren gives full voice to her international influences. With a fluidity in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, Lauren offers a collection of Jazz and Latin Jazz songs with longtime collaborator and pianist Sullivan Fortner. With that longtime duo are Eric Wheeler on bass and Allan Mednard on drums. The results are beautiful.
The album opens with the Alec Wilder/Morty Balitz tune While We’re Young from 1943. The Bill Engvick lyrics were called by James Thurber, "the finest piece of English writing” he knew. Lauren and Sullivan arranged the piece with excellent piano and rhythm parts. Lauren’s exhortation to seize the day of youth, is accompanied with energetic passages from piano, bass, and drums. Her vocals are warm and sweet and full of life.
Day by Day from Axel Stendahl, Paul Weston, and Sammy Cahn follows with light touch piano work and the smooth bass and drums allow Lauren to keep the focus on the vocals from the 1945 classic. Done previously by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Mel Torme, this standard takes on a warmth and lushness from Lauren’s arrangement and vocal delivery. She absolutely wows.
The 1959 Alvaro Carrillo bolero classic Sabor A Mi (Taste of Me) follows. Of all of Carrillo’s vast production of compositions, this is considered his greatest, certainly his biggest hit in Mexico and around the world. The bass solo is a thing of beauty and Sullivan’s piano work is exquisite. Mednard’s even drumming along with Wheeler’s bass is solid and straightforward.
People Will Say We’re in Love is the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic from the 1943 musical Oklahoma! Everyone from Cannonball Adderley, Chet Baker, and Ella Fitgerald to Fred Hersch, Mary Lou Williams, and Sophie Millman have covered this piece. Lauren gives it the snappy, bouncy treatment and the trio follows suit. This is a solid band and their support of Lauren is extraordinary. Mednard gets a cool solo that is perfectly situated and suited for the piece.
And then there’s Lauren. She has the magic. And when you think it can’t get any better…
Along comes Meditação (Meditation) by the one-of-a-kind Antonio Carlos Jobim. Singing in Jobim’s Portuguese, Lauren makes this beautiful bossa nova piece her own. It doesn’t get better than Jobim and Lauren and Sullivan delve into all the richness and beauty that makes Jobim the wonder that he is. I couldn’t let this one go and kept hitting repeat. You’ll see what I mean.
Beautiful Love by King/Young/Van Alstyne is the 1931Wayne King Orchestra beauty. Eric Wheeler’s bass introduces the song with injections from Sullivan’s piano joined by the tight drumming from Mednard. Lauren gives the guys space until the 1:44 mark but she makes it count when she joins. Wheeler closes the piece as he began it.
Mednard gets to open Besame Mucho by Mexican composer Consuelo Velasquez. It is another bolero that has been called the most-ever sung and recorded Mexican song. I mean, if the Beatles, Placido Domingo, Xavier Cugat, and Jimmy Dorsey cover it, then it has truly gotten around. But when Lauren sings those classic lyrics about wanting to be kissed—a lot—you take notice.
Tiernamente (Tenderly) was Walter Gross’ 1946 song that was covered by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Woody Herman, and more. Tenderly was Gross’ composition with lyrics by Jack Lawrence. Lauren, however, has translated the lyrics into Spanish and it feels like it should have always been that way. Mednard’s cymbal washes behind Lauren’s stunning vocals, the tender piano delivery of Sullivan and the cool bass of Wheeler. In the end, Lauren returns to the English lyrics and the effect is like love. Weak in the knees.
A bonus track is included, with Lauren and Sullivan reprising Day by Day. It is a playful romp and the two of them play off each other in such a cool way. Sullivan takes a more improvisational approach and Lauren is as cool and sweet as she is throughout the whole album.
The Songbook Session is Lauren’s third full-length album and it is her best to date. She takes standards from the 30s and 40s and breathes sweet life into them all over again, almost as if we had never heard them before. When an artist can make you forget everything that has gone before, it is something amazing. Such is this album.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl