Renée Fleming - Kudos

Sophisticated Ladies

New York Times | March 22, 2011
By Stephen Holden

(Decca/Emarcy)

Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall, Melody Gardot, Norah Jones, Renée Fleming and Ruth Cameron: the lineup of singers performing popular standards and vintage obscurities on “Sophisticated Ladies,” the 25th-anniversary album of Charlie Haden Quartet West, is formidable. The 12-cut CD is the deepest immersion in the quartet’s moody retro film noir style since its 1999 album, “The Art of the Song.”

The happiest surprise is Ms. Fleming’s voluptuously besotted rendition of “A Love Like This,” composed by Victor Young as a theme for the 1943 movie “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” with lyrics by Ned Washington. Ms. Fleming’s rich, gliding voice evokes a woman wallowing in heedless sensual afterglow, her half-choked singing flooded with emotion.

The album’s concentrated focus on a single mood is relentless. Listening to it from the beginning to the end is like being trapped in a dream with a twisty plot that draws you deeper and deeper into a period Hollywood fantasy of the bad and the beautiful.

 

Wall Street Journal | March 26, 2011

If any contemporary jazz group shows an understanding of old-fashioned melody and romance (which isn't the same as sentiment) it's Quartet West, which celebrates the glorious grit of hard-boiled Los Angeles in the Raymond Chandler era. Mr. Haden's latest album, "Sophisticated Ladies," adds five first-class female singers and a string orchestra to the Quartet, and if the music is beautiful it's because he knows better than anyone how not to take a great song for granted.

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Bassist Charlie Haden / Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos

...Now he takes the latest step by recruiting five excellent contemporary singers as the Sophisticated Ladies of the album's title.

It's also a fascinating combination of mostly well-known vocalists, nearly all of whom turn in the best work of their respective careers here, and some excellent songs so rare that it obviously took a musical Philip Marlowe to uncover them. The two most compelling tracks are rare lyrics to unlikely movie themes, Cassandra Wilson singing "My Love and I" (from "Apache," Mercer & Raksin) and soprano Renee Fleming doing her most successful vocal yet on a pop song, "A Love Like This" (from "For Whom the Bell Tolls," Washington & Young). Otherwise, Ruth Cameron (Mrs. Charlie Haden) totally aces the Lee Wiley-associated torch tune "Let's Call It a Day," and Diana Krall is the only voice I can imagine singing the Benny Goodman theme "Goodbye." Alan Broadbent's string orchestrations for these feminine forms are so tangible that they're literally sonic fabric; he's as much Edith Head as he is Miklos Rosza.

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