Vocalists in big band recordings often seem to hide or are hidden behind a wash of horns and texture. Fay has a pure, beautiful voice and she doesn’t hide anywhere on this delightful album "Specially Arranged for Fay".
Fay sings completely "exposed", without resorting to melismatic artifice or vibrato. Few musicians have the confidence and talent to perform in that vulnerable place where technique and conviction are on full display. Fay seems completely at home, out in front in this empty intimate space. It’s easy to understand why Fay’s style has been described as "horn-like". If it hasn’t been, well, it certainly could be. She’s a vocalist who is first and foremost a musician, and a damn good one.
I never particularly cared for the tune "Nature Boy" whether played by Coltrane or anyone else. Fay’s rendition of this tune, however, is truly a delight. Her spare, relaxed vocalese and phrasing represents the best of the genre. Her delivery on other tunes "Speak Low" and "A House is Not a Home" are equally convincing and enjoyable.
The Millenium Jazz Orchestra plays as nimbly as a quartet on these tight arrangements. My first impression was surprise and frankly some bewilderment. Big bands aren’t usually this assertive and densely orchestrated. But I must say on second listening I really began to appreciate this band.
If you’re only going to buy one big band/vocalist album this year, "Specially Arranged for Fay" should probably be the one. This isn’t your grandfather’s big band, and perhaps not your father’s, either. If it is, you’ve got hip parents, for sure.