Thursday, November 30, 2006

Til Tomorrow

Til Tomorrow: Remembering Marvin Gaye
By Cassandre McKinley
MaxJazz (MXJ 123)

Maybe there’s something in the air, but jazz artists seem to be taking stock of the Marvin Gaye catalog. After the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s reinterpretation of What’s Going On, Cassandre Wilson sings songs associated with Gaye on her debut Til Tomorrow.

Cynical jazz observers sneer about the new formula for crossover success—combine an attractive female vocalist with some well chosen pop standards given jazzy arrangements and unleash a marketing campaign. Maybe it is a formula, but it’s not necessarily a bad one. In this case, McKinley has the most important part of the equation. She has a strong voice, with great tone and clear diction.

McKinley sounds great throughout Tomorrow, the only quibble being one or two weak arrangements. No such caveat applies to “Trouble Man,” the first cut that really shows McKinley’s facility at various tempos in a rendition that gets to blues at the core of Gaye’s music.
The gospel-tinged take on “Night Life” (a Willie Nelson tune via Gaye) is another fine feature for McKinley. It’s a very satisfying jazz track, with nice trumpet work from John Allmark. She also handles a swinging up-tempo “Pride and Joy” with stylish zest. The real standout track is McKinley’s rendition of “Let’s Get It On,” undeniably the most famous Gaye hit on the CD. She credits Kenny Rankin as the inspiration for the spare arrangement for guitar and percussion. Her voice had to carry the tune, and it does, fully expressing the desire and longing of the tune. It’s a track that should make converts of Norah Jones and Cassandra Wilson fans.

After “Let’s Get It On,” one just wants to sit back and say “ah, yes.” Unfortunately, it is followed by a jarring disco-sounding intro of background singers, rain sticks, and synthesizers for “After the Dance,” which kills the mood. The simple piano accompaniment of “Yesterday” trusts the power of her voice and works much better for it. Also notable is “You’re the One for Me,” which even features a little scattish vocalizing and effective sax work from Dino Govoni.

Til Tomorrow is a very strong debut (apart from some self-released sessions which do not seem to be readily available). Also worth noting for J.B. Spins readers who support Americans in uniform, McKinley dedicates the CD to her sergeant brother. Hearing McKinley’s voice, you have to conclude she is the real deal.