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Etta Jones
The Best of Etta Jones - the Prestige Singles
Prestige CD PRCD-11021-2, 2002 (61:11)

Early treasures from a fine singer

Glenn Brooks, 24 March 2002

Etta Jones was a fine and soulful jazz singer who died just last year. This album is a very welcome re-issue of eighteen songs she recorded for Prestige from 1960 to 1963. These singles include her first hits and are a mix of ballads, more-or-less blues, jazz favorites, and some creaky chestnuts.

Jones is often compared to Billie Holiday (who isn't?) and her final album, ironically released the day she died, was Etta Jones Sings Lady Day. Like Holiday, she was a crooner and balladeer, rather than a shouter (like Etta James, with whom she is often confused because of the similarity of their names). She reminds me even more strongly, though, of Dinah Washington. Both had a clear straightforward delivery and soulfully melismatic phrasing. For example, at the beginning of "Hurry Home" on this album, listen to the way Jones turns the first word of "I had to call you on the phone" into a four-note phrase. Pure Dinah.

The album leads off with Jones's first hit, "Don't Go to Strangers," and it is just fine, thank you. I am not sure anything else on this album quite reaches the same level - it is one of those perfect matches of singer and song. There are plenty of other highlights, though. "That's All There Is to Say" gets into the blues, with a backing by just a trio where pianist Richard Wyands turns in some very fine licks. "In the Dark" is an evocation of the the things lovers might do in that situation - whew! "Nature Boy," the Nat Cole hit, is taken mambo-style, which works nicely. Etta stretches the time a bit too far the first time through on this one and gets out of synch with the band, but it is still a fine version. "The Gal From Joe's" borrows the bongos-n-bass intro from Peggy Lee's classic version of Little Willie John's "Fever," recorded four years earlier, to good effect. And "Old Folks" is priceless.

There a a few songs that could easily have been left off. We really don't learn much from Jones' take on "Canadian Sunset," "Unchained Melody," or "Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo," but she does the best she can with these tin cans.

The album features great jazz musicians all the way through - folks like Frank Wess, Kenny Burrell, Oliver Nelson (on alto and as arranger), George Duvivier, and Roy Haynes. And all the songs were recorded by the incomparable Rudy Van Gelder in his New Jersey studio. There is very consistent sound from song to song, with just a touch of echo on the voice. It is nicely re-mastered, too, almost the equal of the OJC LP reissue of Don't Go to Strangers I compared it to. Somehow tracks seven and eight got run together with no CD break between them, though, so the tracks after that are one off in numbering.

You can't go wrong with this one. Highly recommended to fans of classy pop-soul-jazz singing. After these recordings, Jones faded a bit from the scene, reappearing in the mid-seventies for a fine series of recordings on Muse with her husband, tenor sax player Houston Person. Any of these are recommended as a complement to this fine collection.

performers  Frank Wess, flute; Joe Wilder, trumpet; Jerry Dodgion, Oliver Nelson, alto sax; George Barrow, Bob Ashton, tenor sax; Arthur Clarke, Jerome Richardson, Phil Bodner, Eric Dixon, reeds; Ray Alonge, French horn; Lem Winchester, vibes; Richard Wyands, Jimmy Neeley, Lloyd Maines, Patti Bown, Ernie Hayes, or Kenny Cox, piano; Larrry Young, organ; Sketter Best, Wally Richardson, Kenny Burrell, or Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; George Duvivier, Michael Mulia, Bob Bushnell, Sam Bruno, Peck Morrison, or George Tucker, bass; Roy Haynes, Rudy Lawless, Charlie Persip, Ed Shaughnessy, Bobby Donaldson, Oliver Jackson, or Jimmie Smith, drums

production  Original recordings by Rudy Van Gelder. Remastered by Joe Tarantino.

songs  Don't Go to Strangers · If I Had You · Canadian Sunset · That's All There Is to That · Till There Was You · All the Way · Unchained Melody · Hurry Home · You Came a Long Way From St. Louis · Just Friends · I'll Be There · In the Dark · Nature Boy · Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo · Love Walked In · Old Folks · Someday My Prince Will Come · The Gal From Joe's

Copyright © 2002 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.