Kendra Shank’s wide range of material — a generous mix of folk, French chanson and jazz standards — showcases the singer as an adventurous and innovative artist who commands attention in the growing gallery of jazz vocalists. Poised and polished, her voice has a beautifully assured and seductively silky tonal quality, with a hint of the rusty edge associated with Helen Merrill.
Getting the jump on the forthcoming centennial celebrations expected for composer Arthur Schwartz, Shank began “Alone Together” as an intimate duet with Dean Johnson’s dancing string bass. A tasteful scatting chorus led to a boldly swinging finale, backed by pianist Frank Kimbrough’s vigorous support. The tune really defined Shank’s smooth and seductively keen sense of phrasing.
Shank favors picturesque seasonal portraits such as “Winter Sweet” and “When Springtime Turns to Fall.” Neither was particularly interesting musically, but the singer framed them with thoughtful phrasing and soft musical colors. More flavorful was a light swinging turn on Sigmund Romberg’s operetta evergreen, “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise.” The piece built from its infectious start, including the verse, to a near feverish tempo before returning to a neatly sedate finale.
“Wish,” with music by Joe Locke and Shank’s own plaintive lyrics of vigorous yearning, is the title tune of her new Jazz Focus CD. The song, which pleads for a man with rhythm and truth, displays the singer’s gift for imagery.
“Should’ve Been,” composed by her mentor, Abbey Lincoln, explores the options of a relationship gone sour — “could’ve been, would’ve been” — with torchy candor. Another Lincoln spin was Shank’s exotically flavored closer, “Throw it Away.”