She was asked if she had made a CD, and the answer was direct: "Well yes, I am making plans for that, as a matter of fact." Simple but confident, like the cover picture: a smile unposed and sincere. The sunny picture befits the album - underrated standards and surprising originals sung in a voice that smiles. The all-star band gives intimate support, a gentle background while her voice soars. From the choice of songs and how she sings them, you believe you know Diane Hubka's personality - and you'll want to know her better.
The disc opens on a delicate samba, rung in by John Hart's guitar. The piano chords along brightly and then Diane starts "Don't You Know Me?" Her voice is warm, pure on the high notes with a touch of grit in the lower register. The lyrics here, like on most of these songs, are wordy, full of rhymes, and unusually eloquent. Diane takes the challenge with relish. She sings with confidence, driving the words home without sounding theatrical. That delivery gives lines like "My love won't be taken lightly, but take it, babe, you will!" added impact, and lets you know she means it. You might not know her, but this track makes an excellent first impression.
Lee Konitz opens the next number, a vocalize version of "Israel" called "It's Your Dance". Konitz' opening phrase is paralleled by Diane in a bit of scat; she then sings the theme, and the musicians take over. As he played on Miles' original version, Konitz is front and center here, his forceful playing getting growly at the end of his solo. Hart comes next, and his clear tone rings in long, involved lines. While I thought he meandered a bit on his album Bridges, here Hart is direct, the ideas come fast, and his solos a joy throughout. Diane comes back for the final theme, and it's over before you know it.
Guitar and bass pluck along slowly during a "Lazy Afternoon"; bells distantly chine, and Diane tiptoes in, with an appropriately languorous voice. (This place is familiar to Diane; she knew such a spot as a child, complete with tulip tree!) Harvie Swartz' solo keeps the quiet mood, his lines doubled by Hart's guitar in a nice moment. The volume picks up at the end, when piano and Diane gather strength to invite you "to spend a lazy afternoon with me." The moment is warm, like most of this album.
The lyrics to "Haven't We Met?" don't take themselves seriously, and neither does Diane; she has a lot of fun with the lines "sunny but wet" and Romeo introducing himself. The drums brush along and Frank Kimbrough adds some thick piano, getting quite lush near the end of his solo. There's a long delicious fade on the title phrase repeats with more piano and a few Montgomery chords from Hart.
"Miss Harper Goes Bizarre" is a new song by Meredith d'Ambrosio and producer Ray Passman; the lyric uses lots of magazine names to tell us of an aging model. The words are a little too clever for my taste, but it sings wonderfully, Diane pouncing on the bluesy chords and winking as she tells us of the "pretty mademoiselle - she's in vogue today." Kimbrough eats this tune up - he likes the chords as much as Diane does.
"Detour Ahead" is a highlight, as much a centerpiece as "Haven't We Met?" Diane makes no attempt to sound like Billie Holiday, and her voicing emphasizes the smooth road and soft shoulders of the last verse, rather than the detour itself. It's a bold move, one to claim the song for herself, and she makes a strong case. Konitz makes his second appearance, and his solo is wistful, not aching but hopeful, like Diane is. When she declares "No detour ahead" at the end, you believe it.
"Favela" is a lesser-known Jobim tune, whose ornate lyric needs close listening. Here she muses, putting extra stress on the word "thrills" when she tells us of her lover's lips. Konitz' solo is a little more forceful than on "Detour Ahead", but maintains much of that feeling; he enjoys the bridge and its slightly sour chords. It's dreamy like "Lazy Afternoon", but a more aggressive dream, if that makes any sense.
"Everybody Wants to Be a Cat" is the odd tune out; its lyric is simple and might seem out of place among these erudite verses. Not at all: Diane comes slinking on those juicy chords. Like many Disney songs, this only has one verse; she sings it twice, framed by a great bass solo and some nice scatting. The original version was real loud; this creeps along slyly, as I think it should.
Jan Leder's "Thinking of You" offers us a different kind of original. The others here crack wise with a modern sensibility; this one crafts a lyric full of romance and rhymes: "All the time don't even know that I'm thinking of you." The lyric sounds like the 'Thirties, and Diane sings it like a standard, singing it fondly as she's thinking. It works well bumping up against "Alone Together", sung alone with Hart. The open space here makes the song more intimate, and she seems quite passionate as the tune fades away.
"New Cliches" is probably the best Passman original. After rejecting Plato, Shakespeare ("To me it's Greek!"), "Love Me Tender", and "Love Me Do", Diane scouts about for new ways of signifying her love. This leads to Kimbrough's best solo; Hart's is quite good, his most intense of the album. While no new cliches are actually proposed, the search is fun to hear as Diane declaims the old ones. It's over too quickly, and so is this album. It leaves you wanting more, and to hear again from Diane. I think that's the point.
Rating: ****. Definitely for fans of singers and the old standards. Highlights are "Don't You Know Me?", "Lazy Afternoon", "Haven't We Met?", " Detour Ahead" (and Lee Konitz' solo therein), "Favela", "Thinking of You", and "Everybody Wants to be a Cat". Special honors to guitarist John Hart, who really impresses me.