Vocalist Rene Marie's seventh CD as a leader, Voice Of My Beautiful Country, borrows heavily from Americana as well as, what appears on almost every jazz vocalist's recording recently, a number of standards drawn from the wider rock world. The best part of the recording is how Marie proves there is great depth that can be mined from songs many of us grew up on. "O Shenandoah," for example, gets an extended treatment that is so free flowing and open to possibilities one can't help but imagine it's this arrangement of the folk song getting called up on gigs.
This isn't the only track on the disc, however, that gets the drawn-out treatment. "Just My Imagination," done in medley with "Imagination," runs over seven minutes, as does "Angelitos Negros," Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," and "Drift Away." These cuts show the depth of empathetic feeling Marie is able to draw out of her bandmates with the result being perfection sublime.
Marie's band consists of pianist Kevin Bales, who has not just taught at the University of North Florida's highly successful jazz program for 12 years but has also worked with artists like James Moody. The rest of the band includes fellow UNF faculty member and bassist Rodney Jordan, and Quentin Baxter on drums who teaches at the College of Charleston. The most remarkable thing about these musicians is how they are all about supporting Marie's intentionally drifting, at times, intonation, and totally focus on the muse of the moment by not aiming for self-aggrandizing statements. They bring a unity of phrasing support to Marie's lovely vocalize-ish lines lacking in so many jazz musicians who are currently backing vocalists.
As a trio they drift most perfectly within and without time on "O Shenandoah," but know how to kick it up into high gear on "White Rabbit." "John Henry gets a funkily-sassy treatment, while "Drift Away" is given a sweet handling. The ensemble's ability to call upon such a wide variety of rhythmic motives in these two tracks alone speaks to their highly developed musical abilities.
The disc concludes with the "Voice Of My Beautiful Country Suite," which incorporates a number of patriot songs, including "America The Beautiful" and "Lift Ev'ry Voice And Sing." The arrangement of this medley is not just classy, but as everything else on this recording, perfectly paced and plays to the strengths of these highly responsive musicians. This disc is yet further proof of how overlooked Marie is as a vocalist. Don't miss it.