Finally, Paula West has captured the exciting club performance atmosphere I’ve been raving about for years! Her fantastic 2011 program, featuring longtime collaborators The George Mesterhazy Quartet, is now set in stone, as it were. One of the finest interpreters of modern and classic compositions, West and the band cook up some very tasty renditions of Great American Songbook gems, like Rodgers and Hart’s “My Romance,” “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” the Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II lament of lost love from the 1928 operetta The New Moon, and the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen Oscar winner “Pocketful of Miracles.” The tight arrangements by pianist Mesterhazy reinvent each number to suit West’s deliberate and controlled deliveries. The intricate jazz instrumentals, featuring Ed Cherry on guitar, Jerome Jennings on percussion and Barak Mori on bass, weave around West’s husky vocals like a vine. Hoagy Carmichael and Paul Francis Webster’s “Baltimore Oriole” and the sad Caribbean blues of “Where Flamingos Fly” give West a chance to show off her characteristic vocal techniques, such as ovaling her mouth to accentuate rounding her tones to add resonance and long sustained notes.
She takes chestnuts from Bob Dylan (“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Like a Rolling Stone”) and Jimmy Webb (“Wichita Lineman”) to new levels, adding a distinctly African-American jazz and female perspective that is refreshing and confident. The Ethel Waters hit “Man Wanted” shows her sassy, playful side while the lovely measured blues of Lil Green’s “Romance in the Dark” is as impressive a rendition as there is (move over, Nina and Dinah). For those unlucky enough not to be able to see this wonderful stylist perform live, this CD is the next best thing. For we Paula West aficionados, it’s like taking home a piece of the wedding cake.