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Simply Natural by Carla Cook

Carla Cook's third CD Simply Natural is a pleasing blend of classic R&B, gospel, and pure jazz. Highlighted by the soulful piano and Fender Rhodes playing of Cyrus Chestnut on eight of the albums eleven tracks, (Bruce Barth capably fills the piano chair on the three others) Cook and band soulfully present a balanced set of originals and standards. Of the latter, the highlights are two numbers by Ellington and funky versions of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" and Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair." (hey, it works--though she dispenses for the most part with the vocal harmonies that provided the original with most of its appeal, the band finds a groove and the African percussion is an inspired touch)

Percussionist Steve Kroon creates the effect of rain as the album begins with the title cut, a pretty ballad by Cook that suggests "My Favorite Things" taken down from the mountains and recast in a lush glade and given a dash of early '70s soul. Duke Ellington's neglected "Tulip or Turnip" is next, revealing Cook as a capable interpreter of the American songbook. She handles the playful lyrics exactly, bringing out the comedy of the word-play while still keeping an eye on the serious lover's question being posed. Her languid reading of Jeanne Burns' "Weak for the Man" shows her equal facility for more dramatic material.

Cook's gospel roots can be felt on virtually every one of the album's cuts, but nowhere more explicitly than on her sincere reading of Ellington's "Something 'Bout Believing." That said, other tracks suggest that Carla Cook is a woman of the world, and none more so than her sultry original blues "Still Got a Thing for You." Anchored by the unobtrusively funky bass of Kenny Davis, this track will be dug by anyone who remembers and longs for the days when R&B was propelled by real drummers--in this case, the steady Billy Kilson. And that, I think, sums it up--if you like jazz that's steeped in the blues or classic R&B that's grounded in jazz (think of Joe Sample's work with Marvin Gaye), Carla Cook is an artist you need to know.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Carla Cook
  • CD Title: Simply Natural
  • Genre: Soul / Funk Jazz
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: MaxJazz
  • Rating: Four Stars
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