Do Right is Sari’s debut album of a rich reimagining of the Great American Songbook. Listening to the great vocalists who have gone before, she took her original recording and worked it over again from top to bottom and refused to let perfect stand in the way of more perfect. Talk about dedication to the craft.
Producer/percussionist James Shipp was a key ingredient for Sari’s achieving the sound she followed. All great artists pursue that all-too-elusive sound. Sometimes, they get lucky and meet the fellow traveler who can help them run that sound to ground. So it is with Sari and Shipp.
With Shipp are a brilliant array of musicians such as John Di Martino (piano), Ron Affif (guitar), Steve Whipple (bass), Willard Dyson (drums), Houston Person (tenor sax), Nadje Noordhuis (trumpet and flugelhorn) and, of course, James Shipp on percussion. Randy Porter was a great contributor in the arrangement of Sunny and I Thought about You.
The album opens with the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic made famous by Dionne Warwick, Walk on By. Nadje Noordhuis’ forlorn muted trumpet introduces the piece and Sari turns the tune into a narrative to be heard and heeded. The trumpet’s return is as angry as it is anguished. Sari echoes the emotion and makes it plain for all to see and understand. Nicely done.
After You’ve Gone is the Jazzy arrangement of the Turner Layton and Henry Creamer original. John Di Martino’s piano work is bouncy and bright. Houston Person’s tenor sax jumps in coolly. Ron Affif also gets some excellent solo time on guitar. Sari is sassy and punchy with her delivery and keeps the blues at bay through her cockier-than-sad attitude.
Joseph McCoy’s Why Don’t You Right? follows next. Now, this is smoky Jazz that we knew Sari could create. Again, Person’s tenor sax is the perfect partner, playing the admonished lover to Sari’s forceful demands.
The Gal from Joe’s is a lesser-known Duke Ellington/Irving Mills tune that has waited for Sari Kessler to come along and sing it the way it was meant to be sung. John Di Martino’s piano provides the anguished backdrop and Sari offers the melancholy narrative. It sounds like a film noir theme. Sweetly, sadly done.
The mood changes with the upbeat, restorative Sunny by Bobby Hebb. James Shipp nails the percussion on this Jazzed-up piece that Randy Porter reworked into a cooler-than-the-original number. I like Sari’s delivery with her directness and the cool changes. Whipple and Dyson get great standout spots in the rhythm section.
It’s a Wonderful World is an optimistically lovely treatment. Whipple’s hopping bass and straight-up solo are a treat. Sari slides into a warm, reflective outro that puts the bow on the rest of the track.
I Thought about You by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Mercer is a great piece that is completely enhanced by Sari’s vocals. Shipp and Noordhuis return on this track and the complete piece—another Randy Porter arrangement—becomes one of the finest tracks on the album.
It is nearly impossible to say enough about Sari Kessler’s talent for and dedication to Jazz vocals. She moves from sultry to funny to bright to warm and all are believable deliveries.
The Frim Fram Sauce is Sari at her lighthearted best. Singing what she does not want, she declares what she does indeed desire. John Di Martino (piano) and (Ron Affif (guitar) carry off the lightheartedness in equally tongue-in-cheek fashion. Whipple’s bass walks the line from start to finish as Dyson keeps the shuffle alive.
Feeling Good is nicely arranged by Sari and Shipp’s percussion is admirably in place. Sari changes pace and tone and makes this song reveal the truth of the title. Affif’s guitar solo is time well-spent. From bounce to stride to dance, it is a song for feeling good.
My Empty Bed Blues is a Sari Kessler original piece. And Blues, it is. Sari calls to mind some of the sexy blues of Bessie Smith. Person’s tenor sax is again locked in with the soulful blues accompaniment to Sari’s sentiment. Good stuff.
Too Close for Comfort is a tightly delivered piece about her heart being too close to getting in trouble. Di Martino’s piano work is cool and alert.
Moonglow, the Will Hudson/Irving Mills tune, closes out the album. Talk about a standard! And yet, Sari delivers it with all the warmth and joy that comes from her and not from imitation.
Do Right is a splendid example of what a debut album should be and could be. Sari Kessler has directed her energy, her artistry, her creativity into a work of great heart and warmth. If Do Right is truly reflective of her personality and charm, and I am sure it is, we want to know her more.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl