With a Song in My Heart - Gill Manly - Vortex

Originally conceived as an 'Ella retrospective', but also containing a duet ('I Keep Going Back to Joe's') with US singer Mark Murphy unconnected with Fitzgerald, this album marks a welcome return to the recording studio for a woman widely respected by her peers but oddly neglected by the listening public. As Ian Shaw remarks: 'I have always been a huge fan of Gill's creamy, soulful voice...and to have it wrapped around the songs that we all learnt from Ella is just the proverbial icing.'

Manly's jazz literacy is proved not only by her choice of bandmates - pianist Simon Wallace, bassist Mark Hodgson, drummer Ralph Salmins, augmented by perfectly judged guest appearances from trumpeter Guy Barker - but also by her selection of much material that is justly celebrated in instrumental form ('Robbins' Nest', 'A Night in Tunisia', 'Daydream', 'Sittin' and a Rockin'') as well as some achingly lovely songs ('September Song', 'Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most', 'Where or When', 'Lush Life'). It is, though, her ability to infuse these familiar songs with her own spirit that is so impressive throughout this absorbing album.

These four last-named can often provide less talented singers with unearned short-cuts to emotional sophistication; in Manly's hands, they become once again subtly nuanced, even complex, but always genuinely moving, Rodgers and Hart's masterly 'Where or When' in particular the perfect fusion of melody and sentiment.

In these post-Aretha/Whitney days, it often seems that soul-based vocal pyrotechnics (fine in their place, it's important to stress) have become jazz singers' upper gears; Manly's power and grace are (gratifyingly) rooted elsewhere: in the era of classic jazz inhabited by the likes of Hampton, Jacquet, Gillespie and Ellington, as well as Ella, Billie and Sarah. Warmly recommended.

16 June 2009