November 3rd, 2014

CynthiaFelton

Title: Save Your Love For Me

Artist: Cynthia Felton

Label: Felton Ent.

Formats: CD

Release date: October 21, 2014

Los Angeles based vocalist Cynthia Felton, who holds a PhD in Jazz Studies from the University of Southern California, burst onto the scene four years ago with a tribute album to Duke Ellington, followed by Afro Blue: The Music of Oscar Brown, Jr. and Freedom Jazz Dance in 2012. This time around she’s paying tribute to one of her favorite singers, Nancy Wilson, “an elegant stylist of jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, and pop” whose music is perfectly suited for Felton.  With a supple, four-octave range and a shimmering high register unusual in a jazz singer, Felton is nothing short of mesmerizing.

Save Your Love For Me: Cynthia Felton Sings the Nancy Wilson Classics includes 10 songs culled from five of Wilson’s albums recorded in the 1960s, five of which are drawn from the Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderly album. Felton chooses to open, however, with the short a capella intro “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” demonstrating her passion for studying the heritage of African American music as well as her R&B influenced vocal stylings. It’s a teaser to be sure, leaving us wanting far more than the allotted 35 seconds. From there she delves into Cannonball Adderly’s “The Old Country,” but in Felton’s arrangement the saxophone solos are given over to trumpeter Wallace Roney and guitarist Ronald Muldrow. Next up is the Mercer/Kern song “Dearly Beloved,” featuring Felton scatting along with Cyrus Chestnut on piano, while bassist Robert Hurst takes center stage in the midsection with an extended solo.

An equal number of ballads are interspersed throughout the album, including the sensuous title track where Felton is joined by Patrice Rushen on piano, Tony Dumas on bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. This A-list backing combo returns on one of Wilson’s signature storytelling ballads, “Guess Who I Saw Today,” which rolls off Felton’s tongue like molasses as she injects darker timbres to reveal the pathos of a woman who discovers her man with another lover.  Harold Arlen’s “A Sleepin’ Bee” begins as a languid improvisation over the vibes of Ndugu Chancler, before settling in to a nice mid-tempo groove. Another delightful ballad, “Only the Young,” is notable for the trumpet riffs deftly interwoven by Nolan Shaheed.

Among the album’s highlights (though it’s tremendously difficult to place any one song above another) is Wes Montgomery’s “West Coast Blues,” which showcases Fenton’s vocal agility as well as her ability to convincingly merge jazz, R&B and blues.  Another vocal tour-de-force is “(I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over,” with Wilson stretching the notes for maximum effect in tandem with tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts. The album closes with “I Wish You Love,” which starts out with a luscious intro accompanied by the acoustic guitar of Ronald Muldrow, then settles into an up-tempo bossa nova anchored by Munyoungo Jackson on percussion.

Though covering a legendary singer like Nancy Wilson would be a mistake for many singers, Cynthia Felton is right on the money, imprinting her own unique style through her arrangements that contemporize these classic tunes in a very sophisticated manner. Make room in your music collection for this rising star!

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Review Genre(s): Jazz


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