Connie Evingson – Sweet Happy Life
October 18, 2012
Albums by jazz singer Connie Evingson are always things of beauty, and that most certainly can be said of her latest, Sweet Happy Life, released in October 2012.
Before considering this new CD, however, a quick glance at her work in the past decade immediately reveals how wide she casts the net of her repertoire.
On her 2003 CD, Let It Be Jazz (Summit DCD 1021), Connie turns to the music of Lennon & McCartney with delightful and often unexpected results. Few of the thirteen songs hereon are overly familiar and on these, as on the handful of Beatles’ hits that are included, she approaches the material with wit and ingenuity. The following year, Connie teamed up with three different Django Reinhardt-style bands, the Clearwater Hot Club, the Parisota Hot Club and Pearl Django. On Gypsy In My Soul (Minnehaha MM 2006) the music is vibrant and colorful and Connie and the instrumentalists revel in the free, open swing that admirably reflects the gypsy legend. Mostly the songs are standards, although a couple of Reinhardt’s own compositions are included, Nuages and Anouman (Django’s Premonition), the latter having a new lyric by Connie herself. (This CD also appears on my Post entitled Django’s Legacy.)
On Little Did I Dream (Minnehaha MM 2008), Connie and pianist-composer-singer Dave Frishberg blend in a magical musical tour through Dave’s idiosyncratic songbook. Wit, wry humor, intelligence all feature in the nuanced lyrics that are Dave’s forte. Although he sings only once on this collaboration, Dave is the composer of all 14 songs and the lyricist for 8 of them; adding immeasurably to the mix, he plays piano throughout.
For years, singers have enjoyed exploring the work of individual songwriters and Song Book albums abound. It is especially delightful that in this instance, Connie has chosen to honor the work of a lyricist whose name might not immediately come to mind, yet whose words are known to millions. Norman Gimbel’s lyrics are emotional journeys into love and longing, tales of happiness lost and found, poems of heartbreak and joy. Among his most famous are English-language lyrics for songs that first appeared in Brazil and France, notably Agua De Beber, Samba De Orfeu (Sweet Happy Life), The Girl From Ipanema, Watch What Happens, Bluesette, I Will Wait For You. As these titles demonstrate, among the composers with whom Norman has worked are Antônio Carlos Jobim, Michel Legrand, Toots Thielemans, and Haroldo Lobo. With composer-credits such as these, it is not at all surprising that subtle Latin rhythms permeate this album, evoking visual images that are enhanced by glowing performances.
Ably abetted by fine instrumentalists, including Danny Embrey, who is also responsible for most of the charts, Laura Caviani, Joan Griffith, Randy Sabien, and Phil Aaron, Connie delivers exquisite interpretations of these songs that must rank with the best of the past and set markers for the future. Given their source, some of the songs have an infectious rhythmic undertow; while others are filled with languorous longing. Here you will find the familiar, one of the songs, Killing Me Softly With His Love, was a huge 1973 hit for Roberta Flack, rubbing congenial shoulders with the unusual, Adventure, is a previously unrecorded lyric to Jobim’s ballad Olha Maria. This was an instrumental from the movie The Adventurers and reflects Norman’s long involvement with films and television. Others from this source that Connie has chosen are I Will Wait for You and Watch What Happens, Michel Legrand songs from The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg. There is also an extended version of Canadian Sunset that swings mightily throughout. This was composed by jazz pianist Eddie Heywood whose 1956 recording was a hit, as was a version recorded later in the same year by Andy Williams, this time with Norman’s lyric. Here, the rhythm section of Tanner Taylor, Gordon Johnson and Joe Pulice set up a swinging foundation that recognizes the jazz origins and provides a base for Connie to develop her ideal vocal line and for Dave Karr’s driving tenor saxophone solo. Connie’s comment on this track bear repeating: “This track is relatively long but the band was swinging so hard, I didn’t have the heart to shorten it!”
Just as she does on all her albums, on Sweet Happy Life Connie Evingson vividly demonstrates that she is a highly accomplished jazz singer. Her voice is expressive and lean, she swings gracefully, and she is always a joy to hear. If you have yet to hear this outstanding singer then you have a real treat in store, whichever you choose to hear first. But be warned, you’ll find it hard to stop with only one.