Tracey Thomas Jazz Quintet. Fine & Mellow: The Music of Billie Holiday.
TraceyThomasMusic, 2013. Tracey Thomas: https://www.facebook.com/traceythomasmusic
I normally associate Tracey Thomas with a more Americana-like sound--country/folk/rock. I did not know that she cared to sing jazz, but apparently this is so. At the Akron Civic Theatre on the night of June 6, 2013, she performed a concert of songs associated with Billie Holiday. This CD is the result of that performance, and a very good one it is.
I have no doubt that this would be an intimidating effort, to sing a program of songs related to so central an artist to the vocal jazz canon, but Thomas manages quite well. Her voice tends to follow Holiday’s inflections a bit, a difficult thing not to do given the songs, but she still has her own voice. She doesn’t merely imitate, which would be a disaster. Thomas includes all of the classics, from “Good Morning Heartache” to “God Bless the Child,” (one of Billie’s own songs) and even “Strange Fruit,” a tough one to pull off. She does so with considerable aptitude for the intelligence and emotion of the songs as well as the style of the times. Some songs, while sung by Holiday, are more commonly associated with others, such as “Body and Soul,” (by Coleman Hawkins), which was a hit for both Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, and “Stormy Weather,” a tune that in my mind can only be sung by Lena Horne. Nevertheless, Holiday had her way with them, and thus, they appear here. Thomas makes an excellent showing with them, even with “Summertime,” a song I don’t particularly care for.
The band is certainly well-chosen for these songs. I very much enjoyed Tim Longfellow’s piano work, and the solos by Justin Tibbs on sax. They sometimes push for more of an early rhythm & blues feel, which works for many of these songs. The rhythm section of Brandon Covey and Matt Middleton is strong, keeping everyone on their toes.
Congratulations to Ms. Thomas, whose fine body of work continues to accumulate. According to her Facebook page, she repeated this concert late in the year. I hope that she performs this program again somewhere, as I would love to attend.
Performers: Tracey Thomas (vocals), Tim Longfellow (keys), Brandon Covey (upright bass), Justin Tibbs (saxophone), Matt Middleton (drums).
Tracks: Gloomy Sunday, More than You Know, When a Woman Loves a Man, Good Morning Heartache, Ain’t Nobody’s Business, Summertime, Body and Soul, Fine and Mellow, Act Two Intro, Don’t Explain, In My Solitude, Lover Man, Billie’s Blues, Some Other Spring, Stormy Weather, God Bless the Child, My Man, Strange Fruit, Lady Sings the Blues.