From the opening lines of this recording’s first cut, The Song Is You, Melinda Whitaker embodies the essence of jazz singing. “I hear music when I look at you,” Whitaker blows like a muted horn while the rhythm section charges in behind her, swinging the joyful melody with Astaire-like grace. It’s a breathtaking beginning to a masterful collection of jazz performances. Whitaker’s new CD, Lucky So-And-So!is a singular, inspired masterpiece.
Multi-Juno Award-winner, Phil Dwyer serves as producer, arranger and studio ace on piano, tenor, alto and soprano saxophones. He frames Whitaker‘s seductive vocals with a series of daring charts featuring an A-list studio team including trombone great Ian McDougall, trumpet and flugelhorn star Brad Turner, fellow trumpet ace Phil Hamelin, and Dwyer’s longtime bassist Ken Lister. The veteran, Vancouver Island-based Dwyer and Lister are joined by Julian MacDonough’s tasty drum and percussion on eight tracks, providing Whitaker with a rubbery, shifting rhythmic tightrope that swings skintight to her subtle, equally swinging readings.
She is an improviser of the first order, shaping and colouring a crisply enunciated series of songs steeped in the jazz tradition. The vocalist’s soul-searing bravery shines through this song cycle narrative of love and loss and has the wisdom and vocal chops to let each song breathe, to seemingly just happen. Classics from the Great American Songbook are given new life by Whitaker, Dwyer and company’s inventions and artistry. She projects a heroic vulnerability and feeling into her smoldering renditions of My Foolish Heart and Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry and then tops them with a CD-capping, dramatic reading of You’ve Changed drenched in vocal colour and meaning. When she sings “You are bored” Whitaker carves the word into your heart.
Two Stevie Wonder tunes, Overjoyed and Creepin’ are other highpoints in a collection of wise jazz vocals. Whitaker and band give Wonder’s playful compositions juicy, seductive reshaping. MacDonough’s textured drumming and Dwyer’s majestic tenor sax and piano solos standout, teeing it up for the singer’s sexy, shadowy, horn-like vocals. She makes the lyrics come to life, on Creepin’ exclaiming “Ba...by” with a popping, percussive sizzle. Her reading of Overjoyed has a powerful, oceanic undertow that grounds Wonder’s wordplay and buoyant melody with a depth of emotional honesty. Lucky So-And-So! indeed! This is a triumphant, (well-titled) recording.
Other highlights include Whitaker’s adventurous phrasing and understated scat singing on Just Friends, the rent party/big band echoes in Dwyer’s clever arrangement of I’m A Lucky So-And-So, and Pat Coleman’s less-is-more guitar solo on Whitaker’s soulful reading of A Felicidade (Happiness). Dwyer also pitches in a breezy piano solo on that understated Brazilian gem and a smoky tenor sax coda that caps the kaleidoscopic reinvention of I’m A Lucky So-And-So. Lucky So-And-So! is rich with in-the-moment magic, the product of years on the jazz scene.
Whitaker launched her career singing with Tommy Banks on CBC in Edmonton before moving back to Vancouver in the 1970’s when that city’s scene heated up. After a long, successful stint in recording studios and television (several seasons as a featured soloist on the Rene Simard Show) and a lengthy stay in Costa Rica with her family, Whitaker moved back to Victoria where she released The Touch of Your Lips in 2003. Now, with her new recording, she has moved into the Pantheon of jazz vocalists, a master at the top of her craft with a lifetime of love and loss that she and this fine band spin into gold. I’m A Lucky So-And-So! is a powerful testament to her talent and open-hearted musical gifts.