4 1/2 stars
Lorraine Feather, unlike any jazz singer on the scene, is pushing her formidable abilities to their maximum, dining and dancing on a bed of life stories that modern men and women can relate to. Essentially sophisticated metropolitan tales, Feather expands her novel-length treatises far beyond mere chapter and verse of love and loss, into an arena so compelling and emotionally involved, one feels as if they were songs with every listener in mind. She’s also blessed with a keen ear for extraordinary accompanists who also co-write the music aside her lyric content, including pianists Russell Ferrante or Shelly Berg, guitarist Eddie Arkin, bassist Michael Valerio, and several fine guest soloists.
The thing about these songs that truly sets them apart is they are based on pure inspiration, far removed from being based on any preconception of any jazz standards — a true (if you’ll please excuse the pun) feather in her cap. She’s also using an exceptional range from high sailing to deepest low, but not obsidian levels, leaping octaves only when the mood fits, but not for simple pyrotechnical effect. As playful and lithe as she is clever, her voice suits the mood and intent of the humorous song ‘A Lot to Remember’ as she references things happening in threes and going from ‘zero to sixty’ in her long listings. The hip funk of ‘Old at 18/Dog Bowl’ also runs down a veritable database of reasons why, in a mosaic that displays her more legato voicings. There are three duets, including a waltz alongside Ferrante — ‘The Girl with the Lazy Eye,’ the story where the young person’s grades are mediocre, raising more questions than answers — while with pianist Dick Hyman, ‘Scrabble’ is a scrambling parlor scat, jumpy and quick, whipping through words. ‘Peculiar Universe’ is atypically melancholy for the upbeat Feather, as she operates in a Kurt Weill/Bertold Brecht world with Béla Fleck on banjo, as is Felix Mendelssohn’s ‘Perugia,’ arranged by Ferrante, another waltz dripping with regret over lost love and soul.
But Feather ups the emotional quotient even higher during ‘How Did We End Up Here?,’ as she, Ferrante, and vibraphonist Bob Leatherbarrow work a samba to a tick-tock beat with drummer and percussionist Michael Shapiro. Starting off light, but delving into a heavy emotional introspection as a married couple enjoy a tropical get-away, Feather creates something so powerfully intimate, pondering life, fate, and circumstance — it’s her crowning achievement on this disc, and maybe of her entire career.
To say Lorraine Feather has created a triptych of experiences from adolescence to adulthood on this overview of the human condition through various ages is simplistic. What she has done is dig deep into the psyche of all of us through herself, creating a stunning recording that once again trumps the other excellent albums she has made. Asking ‘How did we end up here?,’ the listener has to pose this question in retort — ‘Is the sky the limit?,’ and ‘How high is that sky?’