After paying her dues in the 1980's by working as a singer with Frank Foster's and Lionel Hampton's bands, all the while teaching school, Vanessa Rubin began to gain public recognition with a series of recordings on the Novus label. Breaking from Novus to accept the allure of a contract with RCA, Rubin released New Horizons
in 1997, only to sign with Telarc after that--as has a steady stream of jazz talent.
While Rubin doesn't discuss the hardships and learning experiences she has endured through the tough years of working as a singer, her implicit resolution comes through on Girl Talk.
Like Nnenna Freelon's Maiden Voyage, Girl Talk
remains consistent with the themes of femininity and sisterhood as each tune adds to the concept through elaboration. Strangely enough, I suppose, men accompany Rubin.
The recently deceased and much-missed Etta Jones joins Rubin on 2 tracks to lend an air of matured sororal wisdom. On "But Not For Me," Rubin and Jones commiserate in their bad luck with men, the tune becoming a conversation between friends as much as a duo joined to perform a melody. One of the last of the legendary vocalists from the 1940's and 1950's, Jones' voice is immediately recognizable, and she helps immerse Rubin in decades of working in clubs with the hard-luck tale of "Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You?"
Rubin explores other avenues of the female journey, including expressions of dedicated love on Stephen Sondheim's "Loving You," engagement on the whimsical "Matchmaker Matchmaker," askance attitudes about physical intimacy on "Sex Is A Misdemeanor," devotion on "If You Ever Go Away" and loss of control on "Comes Love."
Rubin is joined by sensitive accompanists who know how to lay down the foundation for a song while letting the vocalist shine. With the superlative Larry Willis and Cedar Walton on piano, Rubin flows through the songs with swing and assurance. Beyond accompaniment, hornmen Eric Alexander, Javon Jackson and Steve Davis perform energizing arrangements that create the elevating atmosphere for tunes like the jazz waltz, "You'll Never Know." And given the opportunity to solo, they add excitement to the tunes, such as Alexander's as-always insightful soloing on "Whatever Happens" or Davis' swinging interpretation of "But Not For Me" or Jackson's memorable work on "You'll Never Know."
It's obvious that Rubin is investing her music with a lifetime of experience and that the lyrics to her music have taken on a personal meaning. That makes Girl Talk
one of her best recordings yet.