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Such Sweet Thunder by Lorraine Feather

The recordings of Lorraine Feather just better each time she records, and if it isn’t obvious yet, she is stepping into the shoes of jazz-oriented lyricists like Jon Hendricks Bob Dorough or Dave Frishberg with her ability to match the sentiment of an instrumental composition with piquant and precisely cadenced words. Previously, this daughter of jazz critic Leonard Feather had tackled the music of Fats Waller on New York City Drag and of a broad assortment of composers, including Duke Ellington, on Café Society. Hints of Such Sweet Thunder appeared on Café Society when she supplied lyrics for Ellington’s "Creole Love Song" and "Rockin’ in Rhythm." Now, Feather has recorded her most engaging and thematically consistent album yet, Such Sweet Thunder, for which she has written the words for 11 of Ellington’s or Ellington/Strayhorn’s compositions. Introduced to Ellington at an early age through her father’s association with him, Feather chooses not to put words to the most familiar Ellington songs, and besides many of those have already received lyrics, like "Take the ‘A’ Train." Instead, she shows her deep knowledge of Ellington’s music, as well as her personal understanding of its spirit, by choosing some of the less often heard songs like "Dancers in Love" or "Rexercise." The results as delicious, modernizing some of the references of Ellington’s music as Feather is unafraid of adding new perspectives to music that other singers or musicians would be afraid to change.

As if Feather’s lyrics and delivery weren’t enough, she, as the album’s co-producer, has engaged the services of several arrangers for attaining precisely the musical results that she seeks, the various musicians of Such Sweet Thunder having as much fun with the music as does she. On "Rhythm, Go’Way," from The Shakespearean Suite, she inauspiciously leads into this remarkable album by slowly unfolding the words over the modified tango rhythm before before the band itself sings "all night long" in response to her voice, all of the musicians equally inspired by the suggestiveness of the music. And then there’s the fun that she and pianist Shelly Berg have on "Imaginary Guy," from Ellington’s The Perfume Suite, played as a rag on which, surprisingly, Feather sings the melody in tongue-twisting unison with Berg: "She’s in love with an imaginary guy./He’s always curious to hear about her day./And deeply interested in what she has to say./He makes a heck of a martini./He’s a hunk and he’s a genius./He’s a fabulous imaginary guy."

And if it seems that such wit is a fluke, one need only to listen to all of the other tracks to hear the same dry wit and fine sense of irony applied to Ellington in ways never done before. On "Can I Call You Sugar," adapted from Ellington’s "Sugar Rum Cherry," which was adapted from Tsaikowsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Feather removes the song from its Christmas connotations and sets up an entirely different scene inspired by the music: "Say I called you "sugar"./Would your hair/Stand on end?/I’m a friend/Filled with hope and doubt./Would you mock me?/Would you rock me?/Would you lock me/Right out?/Let me say it/Just one time./‘Sugar, my sugar.’" But Feather doesn’t stop there. In addition to succinctly portraying the timidness of expressing attraction for fear of rejection, she adds visual imagery to the scene as well: "I’m shivering by the fire/Outside the wind is wailing."

On top of Feather’s talent as a unique lyricist, putting words to some of the most of Ellington’s classic works, her voice has a range that helps to elucidate the feeling of the music she sings and the words she wrote. The finger-snapping swing of "The 101" contrasts with the brassy Broadway show-stopper type of arrangement for "Backwater Town" or the minor-keyed "Fever" type of sultriness of "Lovely Creatures."

All in all, Lorraine Feather’s Such Sweet Thunder reassures jazz listeners about the future of vocalese from an unanticipated source...and from an informed source who got to know many of the legendary talents of jazz through her father’s activities. The CD ranks at the top of the jazz vocal albums of 2004.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Lorraine Feather
  • CD Title: Such Sweet Thunder
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: Sanctuary Records
  • Tracks: Rhythm, Go ‘Way; The 101; Can I Call You Sugar; Imaginary Guy; September Rain; Tenacity; Backwater Town; A Peaceful Kingdom; Lovely Creatures; Antarctica; Mighty Like The Blues.
  • Musicians: Lorraine Feather (vocals, lyrics). Arrangements by Bill Elliot and Shelly Berg. Musicians vary from track to track.
  • Rating: Five Stars
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