I mean, what a voice!
Jackie Ryan, who has been wowing audiences and critics and musicians and anyone else who happens to be within earshot of her voice, has released a two-CD album that showcases the full range of her talent. Even though her three previous albums received almost universal acclaim, they seem but preludes to the expansion of Ryan’s recording initiatives on Doozy.
Ryan has remained consistent in her releases, featuring her interests in songbook standards, Brazilian music, under-appreciated jazz compositions, occasional novelty numbers and a few Broadway tunes. More important, she has attained with that remarkable voice of hers unvaryingly infinitely variable results as she delves into the meanings of the songs and brings them alive for listeners. Even though Ryan enjoys the fortunate advantage of a voice that can shape whatever feeling she wishes to convey, she always uses it to elucidate songwriters’ intentions, rather than being an end unto itself. That diversity of interests and her expressiveness account for the delights, small and large, that occur throughout the playing of the two CD’s of Doozy. Unexpected things happen, some so subtle that they may pass by without notice or become evident on a second listen.
Though based on the West Coast, Ryan has chosen to record Doozy on both coasts some tracks at Bennett Studios in New Jersey and the others at Entourage Studios in Hollywood. Another constant presence during both sessions wass pianist Cyrus Chestnut, who didn’t merely accompany Ryan throughout, but also inserted his own wit and personality with his musical contributions. In addition, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and trumpet Jeremy Pelt were available to record for both sessions, adding urgency and bluesiness to the improvisational choruses when Ryan lays out. And even though Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo provided depth to Ryan’s renditions of Latin songs only in New York, Ryan alternated the bassist and drummer positions between Ray Drummond and Carl Allen on the East Coast and Dezron Douglas and Neal Smith (Chestnut’s rhythm section) on the West Coast.
Ryan’s voice has been praised as "extraordinary" or "sensational," and justifiably so, although I am reluctant to suggest superlatives or to gush beyond measure in any review. Suffice it to say that Ryan understands the core message of every song she performs and she utilizes every technique at her command to connect it to her listeners. And instead of issuing sweeping approbation, maybe it’s me, but I’m impressed with the small delights that build into a satisfying accumulation of emotional appeal when a tune is all sung and done. And Jackie Ryan is all about the details of singing, whether intentional or not. Such effectiveness hardly seems to be accidental.
For instance, on "I Haven’t Got Anything Better to Do," whose title drips with the anticipated revelation of an ironic conclusion, Ryan feigns slowly expressed, languorous indifference. The smoldering senses of loss and frustration finally blaze briefly near the end of the song with an unexpected outburst at high volume (with Chestnut’s assistance during the quick crescendo) of "he never moved me." The fortissimo intensity of the statement, of course, belies its sentiment. Or.... on "Spring Can Really Hang You up the Most" Ryan’s version being a genuine tour de force reminiscent of Morgana King’s tenderness of delivery Ryan sings the third note, either "year" or "kiss" depending on the chorus, as a sigh followed by a pause, allowing for reflection. Once again, dynamics make the difference in guaranteeing memorability as the song’s bridge builds to "this is it" before the conclusion that "spring is a bore." Larry Dunlap’s arrangement of "Do Something" contrasts the sultriness of the verse with the zany desperation of the chorus, whose stop-start presentation of lyrics by Ryan lends itself to the theatrical gestures and facial expressions of a Broadway comedienne, such as "Got the time. / Got the place. / Don’t you see from my face? / Come on, oh baby do something!" As for "Speak Low," Ryan "merely" creates a beautifully structured performance by the way she shapes her notes and holds them, gorgeously on pitch, and smoky and forceful without being obvious, as her voice connects subliminally with the listener, no matter what the words might have been.
As before, Ryan has written the lyrics to a jazz composition previously available solely instrumentally in this case, Benny Carter’s "Doozy." Only vocalese can do justice to the piece, and that’s what Ryan has written by infusing it with the requisite wry sense of humor: "You got me feelin’ kinda woozy / Come on let’s shnuggle up and shmoozy!" As the jazz inspiration for the album for Ryan did sing with the 2007 Benny Carter Centennial Tribute Band Carter is represented on the second CD by his "Summer Serenade", on which Jeremy Pelt’s understated melodic solo helps complete the tribute, as does Dezron Douglas’ loping bass lines. Ryan’s other choices of jazz compositions include the wit of Oscar Brown, Jr. ("Dat Dere" and "Opportunity Please Knock") and the bawdiness of Billie Holiday on "Tell Me More and More and Then Some," sounding noticeably like "St. James Infirmary." Ryan’s fondness for the story-telling nature and sentiment of Brazilian song form continues on Doozy with the inclusion of two Antonio Carlos Jobim pieces, sung in Portuguese and accompanied by Lubambo on acoustic guitar with an unaffected immersion into the songs’ feelings.
Jackie Ryan is a singer whose stylistic details add up to an emotional totality of effect. As a result, there are too many details within the two CD’s of Doozy for the concision of a review. But project’s totality can be described as affecting and individualistic, a reflection of Ryan’s personality and musical choices. Doozy is so painstakingly produced, joyously performed and comprehensively representative of Ryan’s widely praised style that it is the culmination of all of her preceding recording activity.