Jazz Review: But Beautiful

American jazz singer Mary Stallings's second collaboration with pianist Eric Reed in their latest album, But Beautiful, offers more of the same to listeners who enjoy their first album.

But Beautiful

Mary Stallings

High Note

Rating: 4/5 stars

SINGAPORE - American jazz singer Mary Stallings, now 74, has been "rediscovered" in recent years. This album, her second collaboration with pianist Eric Reed, offers more of the same to those who enjoyed her last one, last year's Don't Look Back.

Her voice has, astonishingly, weathered the years well. Like Barbara Cook, still singing into her 80s, Stallings' pristine mid-range soprano swings lightly and modulates beautifully.

Her phrasing harks backs to the great understated song stylists of yesteryear, such as Dinah Washington, whom the former singer with the Count Basie Orchestra counts as a major influence.

The greatest pleasure in listening to this subtle singer is how the melody and lyrics take centre stage - there is no fancy fireworks, no scatting frenzy, no frilly embellishments.

On ballads such as the title track, Dedicated To You and I Didn't Know What Time It Was, she proffers such minimalist takes that it is easy to miss the mastery it takes to sing with such quiet ease.

She slips invisibly into each song and it is a gorgeous thing to hear.

Like the best jazz crooners, she rewards close listening - check out how she delays words infinitesmally on Time On My Hands, expressing musically the sense of the lyrics.

Reed sounds like he is truly enjoying himself, chucking out swinging accompaniment on his piano which Stallings meets with equanimity and style.

Sophisticated swing for the smart set.