Carol Sloane

Jazz Singer

Carol Sloane: Dearest Duke (Arbors 19350)

by Frank-John Hadley
Downbeat, September 2007

Carol Sloane doesn't so much sing a song as bestow it a state of grace. Quietly expressive in an alto of tremendous warmth, she has recorded more songs by Duke Ellington than any other composer in the many years since being "discovered" at the 1961 Newport Jazz Festival. There have been two all-Ellington albums in her discography: "Sophisticated Lady" from 1977 and 1999's "Romantic Ellington." Sloane's third fond bow to the master, "Dearest Duke," with Brad Hatfield on piano and Ken Peplowski on reeds, works like a charm. Though the material is familiar, nine individual songs and two medleys all breathe with the calm modulated joy of an unusually wise vocalist committed to finding new delight in long-treasured lyrics and music.

Sloane considers ballads her primary way of conveying emotion. She examines each word for nuanced meaning as if it were the edge of a diamond under a microscope. Negotiating the melody of "Sophisticated Lady" with a dreamy finesse, Sloane appears to have deeper understanding of the tune than when she interpreted it on records in the 1970s and '90s. She brings calm and considered awe to "In a Sentimental Mood," staying free of pretense or melodrama, as clarinetist Peplowski mirrors her mood with seeming effortlessness. "Mood Indigo" is her low-key yet poignant confessional on love, that special voice of hers gliding sky-high in rapture at song's end. One reason why Sloane is so effective on ballads, and on the occasional number where she picks up the tempo with swinging surety, is her esthetic decision to leave pauses between phrases. These pregnant, suspenseful silences lure lucky listeners into the timeless songs.