Jazz singer Carla Cook’s 1999 debut, It’s All About Love (MaxJazz), was a revelation: because she didn’t record it till her mid-30s, she sounded at once fresh and fully mature. A Detroit native weaned on Motown and gospel, Cook has a hefty, bluesy timbre, with a honeyed brightness in the upper half of her range. She phrases as naturally as the sun sets, and on ballads and down-tempo standards her blend of sung melody and speech rhythms practically glows; when she scats, it’s not a perfunctory trick but an organic, improvisatory extension of the written line. For many of today’s jazz divas, including Nnenna Freelon and Dianne Reeves, Sarah Vaughan is the reigning model; even Cassandra Wilson takes after her, at one level of remove–she’s borrowed from Betty Carter, whose style was an evolution of Vaughan’s. But Cook doesn’t emulate Vaughan, Carter, or anyone else I can name; she sounds a bit–but only a bit–like a more reserved Carmen McRae. Keeping a lid on her natural ebullience, she pulls together 50s hard bop and west-coast cool with touches of more recent styles, from 60s bossa nova to 70s soul; she’s also written some awfully good contemporary funk tunes and love songs herself. Abetted by her record label, Cook has taken a big chance with her brand-new release, the delicious Dem Bones: she’s added three trombones, the most cantankerous of horns, to her band. She stirs them in so expertly, you wonder why more singers don’t try it–even as you pray they won’t. For these gigs, though, she’ll leave the ‘bones at home; instead she’ll be accompanied by a trio led by regular pianist Andy Milne. Tuesday, March 6, 8 PM, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell, Arlington Heights; 847-577-2121. Wednesday, March 7, 8 PM, Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. Thursday, March 8, 7:30 PM, DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl.; 773-947-0600.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jimmy Katz.