LAINIE COOKE: “THE MUSIC IS THE MAGIC” (Onyx 5)
As the only instrument located within the human body (and the only one used for something other than making music), the human voice can be easily damaged or abused. So I’m very impressed when I hear an older singer who still has exceptional control of their instrument. Lainie Cooke is 73 years old (and I wouldn’t mention it, except that it’s touted in the liner notes and the publicity material), and on her new CD, “The Music is the Magic”, she sounds like a singer three decades younger. She has a bright, wide voice reminiscent of the late Anne Marie Moss, and she exudes a sense of wonder as she sings lyrics by Abbey Lincoln, Leslie Bricusse and Johnny Mercer. She tackles the angular melody of Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now” (here retitled “How I Wish”) with aplomb, displaying superb intonation and a fine sense of melodic variation. Only a touch of wobbly vibrato reveals her age, but the maturity she brings to every lyric makes up for this technical issue. She is accompanied by an excellent group, including her longtime pianist Tedd Firth, saxophonist Myron Walden, bassist Luques Curtis and producer/drummer/trumpeter Ralph Peterson. The band’s tasty arrangements truly lift Cooke’s performance, and Cooke—who does not scat—wisely gives the instrumentalists plenty of room to blow. The only real misstep is Peggy Lee’s “Manaña”, which was rather offensive to Latinos seven decades ago and has not aged well. It seems a shame that the inventive setting was wasted on this undeserving song. Thankfully, the next song makes us forget what came before: a splendid version of Dave Frishberg’s “Our Love Goes On” with an expressive vocal and a brilliant trumpet solo. While the current jazz scene has plenty of older singers who really shouldn’t be working anymore, Lainie Cooke proves that she still has plenty of good music to offer.