Chicago-based singer Dee Alexander‘s concert at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival ended up on the New York Times list of the best shows that year. With her new record, she “wanted to pay tribute to my mom while I still have her”, as stated in the liner notes to the new disk and “when I was growing up, she had a great record collection – and still does: Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, Dakota Staton – I cut my eyeteeth on them”.
She is also a big Abbey Lincoln fan and so her new album starts with a tune that was in Abbey’s repertoire as well: the immortal “As Long As You’re Living” where Dee shows her strong, powerful voice hitting every note right on the spot. Oliver Lake has a fat sax solo on this one. Dee gets bluesy on the standard “Now Or Never” which comes from the Billie Holiday songbook and which features some neat percussion and a raspy sax solo courtesy of Ari Brown.
Tempo is slowed down on the ironic “Guess Who I Saw Today”, made famous by Nancy Wilson, among others. Dee tells the story of the cheated wife with enough irony and self-esteem without overdoing it here. Juan Tizol‘s “Perdido” has a wonderful light Latin beat and some great piano work by Miguel de la Cerna. The other Abbey tune on offer is “Lonesome Lover” co-written by her then-husband Max Roach and turning it slightly down in tempo with another adventurous sax solo by Oliver Lake. Dee sounds majestic on this one – doesn’t match the sheer power and elegance of Abbey Lincoln, but certainly puts her own stamp on it.
“Nature Boy” is done with eerie melodic twists and is highly enjoyable and fun to listen to. Also, the often-heard “What A Difference A Day Makes” is a bass and guitar ballad that turns out to be truly engaging. I wasn’t impressed with her “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” but her “Soul Serenade” is another one with a lot of heart and soul.