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L.A. After Dark by Diane Witherspoon

Diane Witherspoon’s CD, L.A. After Dark, is a partnership with many great jazz artists of the past, as well as talented songwriters of the present. She has worked with John & Paula Hackett on a previous collaboration of Randy Weston’s music, but this album stands alone. The theme of the album is to combine great melodies from such artists as Teddy Edwards, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson and others with newly-written lyrics.

The album in general is very good, with some faults that distract from the music, but not so much to destroy it. Witherspoon’s voice is good, and she articulates well, with an excellent feel for the lyrics of the Hacketts. She is particularly strong in the lower, meatier register of her voice, on songs such as "Tradition", written especially for this album by bassist Tyrone Brown.

Unfortunately, Ms. Witherspoon’s voice is not strong in the upper register. Her tone is thin (although admittedly some may enjoy the thinner, more feminine timbre). Similarly, her articulation is excellent but correspondingly inconsistent. She does very well on the faster tunes, able to enunciate clearly and quickly. The title track and "Music Brings You Back" are excellent examples of this. The original instrumental lines are difficult for the voice, but she handles the words eloquently (even if the melody is a bit too rangy for her). She also performs skillfully on ballads, with much feeling in her voice. "Tradition" is a wonderful tune filled with heartfelt lyrics about the effect of jazz on everyone’s life, which Ms. Witherspoon delivers flawlessly. However, on "Moments", which is a Latin tune, the words are articulated but somehow her voice lacks the vitality the rhythm necessitates. She does a much better job assimilating the form with her vocal style on "You’ll Believe in Love", the last tune on the album, which is also a Latin tune.

The songwriters, John and Paula Hackett, also contribute to the album in both positive and negative ways. They do wonderfully adapting the words they use to the original instrumental articulation. Also, for the most part they steer clear of clichéd themes such as broken hearts, broken dreams, and just plain old being broke. "Tradition" for instance, is a song about how jazz music affects the lives so deeply of everyone involved in the genre, from performer to consumer. "Our lives have been written in song. They make us belong. It’s our Tradition." But for most of the album, the lyrics are literate, but ordinary; lacking details that make a song, a story, come to life. In many instances the lyrics are just too general to paint a real picture. They use terms such as "night", and "place", rather than "twilight" (or something similar) and "club". As professional songwriters, they must be held to a higher standard of lyrical expression.

Ms. Witherspoon’s second release, L.A. After Dark is certainly a pleasant listen. However, it lacks a certain superiority to be highly recommended. I commend all parties involved for the project of bringing the music of such wonderful masters to life through the use of contemporary song.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Diane Witherspoon
  • CD Title: L.A. After Dark
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Summit Records
  • Rating: Three Stars
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