The mere mention of jazz singing may evoke the high-velocity theatrics of scat, but some of our reigning elders of the form are, in fact, slow-motion specialists. Jimmy Scott, Abbey Lincoln and Freddie Cole come to mind, and especially Shirley Horn, who in her seventh decade arguably does slow and sultry better than anyone else alive. She whispers regally and projects a halo of intimacy. The song is for you, they’re all for you, they’ve always been for you.
Horn recorded briefly in the ’60s and she all but disappeared until the ’80s when a short stint with Steeplechase and her continuing association with Verve let the jazz world hear what it had been missing. And among the comeback recordings, her string session with arranger-conductor-composer Johnny Mandel has long cried out for a reprise; after nine years she’s finally delivered.
Well, sort of. Here’s to Life was an epic; Mandel’s orchestrations soaring on every track, it clocked in at an hour. You’re My Thrill is a lighter project: It mixes up orchestrated ballads with midtempo pieces by Horn’s trio alone and, at 45 minutes, could have fit on an old-style LP. But it’s not to be missed.
Horn is playful with tunes including “The Best Is Yet to Come” and “The Rules of the Road,” and slyly sassy on “Sharing The Night with the Blues” and “Why Don’t You Do Right?” She is an estimable piano player and in this kind of mood she recalls the swinging voice-piano interplay of Nat King Cole.
But the soul of this collection is its ballads with Mandel’s string sections almost tiptoeing in so as not to break the spell. “You’re My Thrill” opens the record like a night flower, celebrating the sensuality of a touch. Later come “Solitary Moon,” “I Got Lost in His Arms,” “My Heart Stood Still” and “The Very Thought of You.” Then at the end, there’s a plaintive tour de force, “All Night Long,” in which Horn tries to wish a dream lover into someone to hold. “No-no-no-no-no,” Horn sings as only Horn can, each “no” a small drama, and finally, “Stop haunting me, baby.” After the highs and lows of love, it all ends in denial, love as an elusive dream. Elusive but irresistible. A fitting note for Shirley Horn to end on.
W. Kim Heron is the editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].