Sylvia McNair & André Previn
This album by classical singer Sylvia McNair brings to mind the albums made by another “crossover” classical singer, Eileen Farrell, who issued several recordings starting in the 1960s and running into the 1990s. In her endeavor, McNair picked a composer whose music can and has accommodated many styles of singing. She is joined by another musician who moves back and forth with ease between classical and jazz, André Previn. Bass player David Finck completes the cast of characters for this session. There’s no scatting or wordless singing and absolutely no risk-taking (except in the making of the album). Nevertheless, there are some very pleasant musical moments here, and on a couple of tunes McNair tries to inject some jazz feeling into her singing. “I Won’t Dance” is fast-paced, and McNair trades musical statements with Finck‘s bass. It is also obvious that McNair works very hard to avoid sounding like an opera singer by not delivering these songs as if she were doing an aria by Richard Wagner. She strays somewhat from that objective on “You Couldn’t Be Cuter,” sounding a bit shrill. “All the Things You Are,” however, she sings sweetly and softly — typical of how she handles the ballads. “Can I Forget You?” is unabashedly plaintive and on “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” where there’s a tremendous temptation to let loose with full voice, McNair continues to hold back. While presenting no threat to Ella Fitzgerald‘s nor Mel Tormé‘s versions, McNair‘s “A Fine Romance” comes across as a bouncy piece of work. Several two-song medleys are included, with the common thread being that both songs in each pairing come from the same musical, movie, or stage. There probably couldn’t have been a better choice than Previn to be McNair‘s musical soulmate. His jazz and classical backgrounds lend themselves to this kind of album and to McNair‘s singing. Typically, Previn plays no-nonsense accompaniment for McNair, then takes a chorus or two in a jazz mode. There’s no pretense here. McNair doesn’t try to do jazz. Rather, she and her friends perform almost 70 minutes of very pleasant, straightforward music of one of the major contributors to the Great American Songbook.