New York-based vocalist Mary Foster Conklin has just released her fourth CD called “Photographs” (her first since 2006), named after a Fran Landesman song. There is a total of five Landesman songs on the album. The songwriter is probably best-known for her “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”, but Mary also chose to do the lesser known tunes and that seems to be the underlying factor on this fine album, anyway.
The album opens with Joni Mitchell‘s “Night In The City” (from Joni’s 1968 debut album) where Mary is supported by saxophonist Joel Frahm and the many colors of her voice are probably best displayed on this rarely covered Mitchell song – the jazz inflections, the theater storytelling, the twirling around off-center material. But there are also several more familiar tunes here, like Benny Carter‘s “Key Largo”, again with superb work by Joel Frahm plus the steadily eloquent rhythm section of John diMartino (piano), Ed Howard (bass), and Shinnosuke Takahashi (drums).
Warren Vaché has a pretty cool solo on “Autumn Serenade” which also boasts some cute piano arrangement; the arrangements are by John diMartino here, all adventurous and imaginative and fierce. Everyone has his favorite interpretation of the songs from the Great American Songbook and/or the standards and my favorite of the afore-mentioned “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” is still the one by Irene Kral (there you go again), but Mary and John come up with a beautiful duo performance and Mary’s “…there’s no mistaking” is so wholeheartedly emphasized that you can’t help but believe the prospects.
A sympathetic touch is added to the Latinized “Cinnamon And Clove” by Johnny Mandel and Alan & Marilyn Bergman: guitarist Paul Meyers underscores the sweetness and Nanny Assis on percussion helps out as well. The subdued, nocturnal flair of “Small Day Tomorrow”, another Fran Landesman lyric, a collaboration with the equally legendary beat poet Bob Dorough, is captured with an urgent aplomb. And Lennon/McCartney’s “For No One” is just plain infectious, with the tenor sax of Houston Person.
The well-chosen repertoire also includes “The Winds Of Heaven”, a Landesman/Dorough tune sung by Irene Kral on her “You Are There” album, recorded in 1977 (which also includes “Small Day Tomorrow” and “Nothing Like You”), and the title track, written with Alec Wilder, both showcasing an innate intensity and warmth and longing with Mary’s immaculate phrasing and intonation. Her “Night Song” oozes class and soul and includes her reflective”Where do I belong” as an exceptionally vulnerable question.
“I sing ballads for grownups – ballads about reality, about now”, says Mary in the liner notes. And the hilariously floating and cool “Long As You’re Living” is the perfect vehicle for closing this abundant 13-song set. If you’re in New York, don’t miss the record release show at Birdland on Thursday at 6pm.