One of the more comforting rewards to be found in the company of Carol Sloane is the refreshing discovery that performer and listener are not locked into a theme. There are no single composers or lyricists honored, no particular decade is recalled, and for a change, no Broadway or Hollywood retrospective. The lady simply sings, and the warmth of her voice, the subtlety of her musical phrasing and a refreshingly varied repertoire contribute to an hour of song that would enhance anyone’s summer evening.
Winding up the Algonquin seasonal jazz series, Sloane lays out her songs with the kind of grace and unadorned directness one associates with the memory of Maxine Sullivan. In a career that has spanned four decades, Sloane offers a master class in technique.
Sloane’s jazz roots carry her back to sitting in for Annie Ross for the legendary Lambert, Hendricks and Ross trio. Recalling her brief stint with the group, the singer takes Ben Webster’s “Cottontail” for a jaunty ride. Remembering legendary singer-composer Una Mae Carlisle, she infuses “I See a Million People” with distinctive simplicity.
No Sloane performance would be complete without a nod to Duke Ellington. This time around it’s “Just a Sittin’ and a Rockin’ ” and “All Too Soon,” the latter from her 1999 DRG CD, “Romantic Ellington.” Add a Basie kick with “How Could You Do a Thing Like That to Me,” and Sloane defines the rare art of jazz singing with cool understatement, enhanced by lightly swinging arrangements.
There are a couple of show tunes along the way, but don’t expect Broadway pizzazz. With “On the Street Where You Live” and that ardent promise from the pens of Dorothy Fields and Arthur Schwartz, “I’ll Buy You a Star” from “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” Sloane sings pretty tunes prettily.
She previewed the title song from her soon to be released Hi Note CD, “I Never Went Away,” by film composer — and the favorite accompanist for several Manhattan based divas — Richard Rodney Bennett. Another dazzling excerpt from her forthcoming recorded collection is the picturesque 1933 ballad “Deep Purple,” which Sloane credits to her youth, when she first heard it sung by the divine Sarah Vaughan. The old war-horse hasn’t sounded this good in years.
There is an undeniable stateliness in the deft piano accompaniment of Norman Simmons. He cradles the lady in the warmth of his chords, and when he swings, there is a profound and pleasing politeness in his playing.