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Dorothy Leigh, A Second Chance
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September 2011: Intimate Moments review by Matthew Warnock
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There is a fine art to playing in a vocal-piano jazz duo, whether in a live situation or on a recording session. The performers need to be technically solid, but at the same time take enough chances to keep things interesting, providing enjoyment and aural captivation for their audiences. Vocalist Dorothy Leigh and pianist Alva Nelson have recently come together to produce Intimate Moments, a collection of ten vocal-piano duos set in the traditional jazz style. The album is a mix of classics and new works for the genre, coming together in an entertaining package that leaves an impression on the listener long after the notes have faded from the speakers.

Nelson is a first rate performer who shines throughout the album. Whether it be the short, yet poignant intro to “What a Difference a Day Makes” or the swinging solo on “When Sunny Gets Blue,” Nelson is always solid in his accompaniment as well as creative with his improvisations. Having only one instrumental soloist on record can put a lot of weight on that performers shoulders, but in this case Nelson rises to the occasion. His groove is always solid, such as the intro and chord work on “Nature Boy,” and he never falters behind Leigh’s vocal lines, something that is essential in producing a successful piano-vocal duo album or performance.

Leigh approaches the vocal jazz genre with a very unique vocal quality that leaves a lasting impression on the listener. Where Nelson is the rock solid foundation for each track, Leigh takes more chances in her vocal timber, note choices and in the intensity of her lines. One of the brightest moments on the album, when all of these elements come together and click, is “Nature Boy.” Here, Leigh is both sultry and intense, moving between these two emotions as the song builds from its subtle beginnings to its climax and subsequent decrescendo. There are moments when she digs deep into the melody line, almost growling as she delivers each word and phrase, something that is very personalized and unique to the vocal jazz genre, where a lot of vocalists shy away from this kind of emotional drive in their lines.

While Leigh’s aggressive approach to the melody works extremely well on “Nature Boy,” there are other moments where she takes a risk but falls a bit short of the mark. On the track “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life/In a Sentimental Mood,” Leigh pours her emotion into each and every phrase, which is what one needs to do in order to maintain a sense of excitement, especially in a duo situation, but there are moments when her attack may be a bit much for traditional listeners of jazz vocal music. Her heavy vibrato and powerful vocals will appeal to a certain group of listeners, but others may not be able to dig this very personalized approach to classic jazz tunes.

Having said that, without taking musical risks any duo album is doomed to be flat and boring for any listener, and so Leigh must be commended for sticking her neck out and allowing her personality to breathe into her lines, but when taking chances sometimes things work and sometimes things don’t. In this case the positives outshine the negative aspects, but listeners should be prepared for an album that digs deep into Leigh’s personality and presents a fresh, new and very powerful take on the vocal jazz genre. As Leigh continues to release new records and perform she will no doubt continue to develop her approach, continuing to keep the unique aspects and refine and perfect them over time. With such a solid record under her belt already the future is bright for this talented singer.

Reviewed by Matthew Warnock
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

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