Nancy Wilson,
(Rare Songs, Very Personal)

(MCG, 2004)

Ah, listen to the luxuriant, warm, glorious voice of Nancy Wilson, and just try telling yourself that this remarkable woman has reached her 50th year in show business. As she says in the first song, "Some things improve with age," and she's living proof. In a dozen generous tracks, Wilson joins forces with such jazz giants as Toot Thielemans, George Shearing, Phil Woods, Gary Burton, Paquito D'Rivera, Rufus Reid, Joe Negri, Bill Watrous, Kenny Lattimore and Ivan Lins.

This is a CD that's review-proof. It's quite simply impossible for any lover of jazz vocals not to be enthused by the premise of this album and thrilled by the reality of it. Wilson's voice hasn't lost a bit of its timbre and tone. The elegance, the taste, the style, the wit have all increased rather than weakened with age. Whether she's crooning a torch song like "An Older Man is Like an Elegant Wine" (which will have every male listener over 50 readjusting his hair over that bald spot) or burning in an up-tempo "Day In, Day Out," she demands that listeners put down that magazine (or the liner notes) and pay attention. Her phrasing is impeccable, as in "Why Did I Choose You," in which she at first breaks up the lines, causing us to suspect that maybe age has stolen the ability to extend a phrase. Then she weaves together several lines without a breath, extending the final note until we have to wonder if those magnificent lungs are made of leather.

The guests nearly all blend perfectly with Wilson's voice -- Woods's sassy sax, Thieleman's vocal harmonica, Burton's brightly bouncing vibes, Watrous's mellow trombone, D'Rivera's sly clarinet, Negri's sympathetic guitar voicings (which seem like delicate overtones on Wilson's notes) and Shearing's class and elegance. It's only Lattimore and Lins, the two vocalists daring to go toe to toe with the lady, who slightly disappoint. Their chops simply can't equal Wilson's, and it's almost a relief when she comes back in, though their presence adds variety.

Still, Wilson's voice provides all the variety necessary. She is truly a living legend, and this sumptuous album shows that we should be listening to her for many more years to come. Ageless, timeless, Nancy Wilson is one of the great jazz vocalists, and we are more than fortunate to have this album to listen to and lose ourselves in over and over.

by Chet Williamson
12 November 2005

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