Jazz Improv Magazine, June 2008
Here's a delightful assembly of musicians holding forth on a cool dozen ditties new and old. It's a winning CD all around: Lainie Cooke's vocals are smooth and comforting, filled with that old heartache blues feeling (e.g., check out "When A Woman Loves a Man" as a kind of epitome of how to sing a torch song). This is so whether she sings a ballad or swings out on tunes like "It’s Always You." Cameron Brown supplies just the right pulse and phrasing for the first introductory phrases. After a chorus, Tedd Firth takes over establishing the fulsome jazz credentials of the group with Matt Wilson's cymbals ringing out we're here to play. Brown ends things appropriately enough with a few measures of goodbye.
Take "I Will Wait for You"–there's plenty of sadness and longing in each and every word, enunciated and held in just the right way to wring out every metaphorical tear. Even, or especially, Cooke's intermittent scatting is just right, so natural so fitting, so beautiful. Every vocalist should be so lucky to have sidemen like Brown, Firth, and Wilson. Not everyone knows the ins and outs of accompaniment, and vocalists often pay the price–or at times deserve a kind of carelessness from the backup personnel. Here, however, there’s more than enough mutual respect to go around and you can hear it.
Then there's a companion "You" lyric, the familiar but always special "The Very Thought of You," demonstrating the almost universal versatility and appeal of Noble's perfect lyrics. Cooke's voice here is so tender, so touching, so heartfelt that you're convinced she truly knows the meaning of the words she so mellifluously delivers. Those words are echoed by the loving, longing lines of Joel Frahm on alto sax.
"Too Close For Comfort" has all the right punctuation and lyricism, again with the bass, drums, piano trio backing up Cooke as she struts her stuff , never missing a beat, always hitting her mark, ever strong, typically enunciating each and every word as if some kind of advocate for actually pronouncing words. She scats just enough to avoid crossing over into another mood.
"Tuesdays in Chinatown" begins with the exotic strains of Frahm's soprano sax and sets the mood, a la a latter day Grover Washington, for the plangent narrative Cooke tells about Sammy and Billy and their train ride rendezvous in a dead end but ecstatic escape each Tuesday in China Town. It's a variant of tunes like "Frankie and Johnny" or "Me and Mrs. Jones," age old archetypes of illicit love. In the story, the couple engages in a slow dance away from external responsibilities in a drawn out weekly moment. Frahm and Cooke do their own kind of slow dance–with Cooke's forceful, full-ranged vocal lament, answered by Frahm's obbligato lines, each note resonating more fully with the sadness of the lyric.
More musical dancing occurs with Firth's piano accompaniment to Cooke's slow and strong singing of "Answer Me," a tune so worthy of the magical talents of this duet (as is the concluding tune, "After You"). Firth's solo is simple and beautiful, just the right touch and sensibility for the lyric and for Cooke’s compelling plea. Who couldn't answer this kind of sweet-sorrow?
And...if you want some swingin', funky trombone playin' just order up some Roland Barber when you say "Waiter Make Mine Blues," a kind of great foot-tappin', happily melancholy tune that with lesser talent might go unnoticed. Here, it's appetizer, entre, and dessert all in one. The aforementioned "When a Woman Loves A Man" is a superb confluence of lyric, vocalist, and musicianship–with Frahm's alto sax ringing forth again, matching the downright strength of Cooke's voice, and the mindful feeling of her singing. Eckstine's "I Want to Talk about You" is another fine bluesy ballad, here again with Roland Barber's trombone winning the day with purity and grace. His solo here is simply flawless: sustained beyond belief amidst sophisticated tempo changes. As for the Latin aspect of a love song..."Take Me In Your Arms" is so wonderfully alluring that the listener merges completely with the music, and is more or less left breathless from the strategic sighs and rhythmic syncopations, all matching a lover's flirtations and hesitations. The final goodbye of the lyric and long held breath of Cooke is downright erotic!
Marvin Horne’s guitar and Barber’s trombone take to the fore in "Meet Me Where They Play the Blues"–just as it should be. There's some New Orleans here with Wilson's strong back beat and Cooke's wailing. This lady can sing the blues. And ballads, and...well just about anything. So here's to Lainie Cooke! For this reviewer "It’s always you, gal, always you!"
"Great music... great voice... great delivery.. glad you sent the cd our way... love Morant on the trumpet..congrats on such talent."
NPR Morning Edition
Lainie Cooke’s voice is all about projection. And control. And dynamics. And lyrical insight. And connecting to her listeners. Which makes sense since she has helped to sustain herself by singing commercial voiceovers… and by coaching voiceover technique as well.
On Here’s to Life!, Cooke surrounds herself with top-shelf musicians from both coasts who, by the evidence of the music on the CD, had as much fun as she did during the recording process.
“I Just Found out about Love” kicks off the CD inauspiciously, making the listener wonder what’s to come—a standard piano trio employed merely to back up a singer throughout all twelve tracks, or a lowering-ofexpectations that contrasts with the eventual conclusion of a song-length build-up. It doesn’t take long to find out that the second option is the one that Cooke chose. For after the first chorus, the song opens up into a solid swing leading into Joey Morant’s blatting and smearing trumpet solo that hints at more delights to come throughout the rest of the recording.
Some of those surprises arise throughout “Don’t Quit Now,” which is reminiscent of Sheila Jordan’s introduction of her duo with Mark Murphy on “Round About.” And indeed, the lyrics of “Don’t Quit Now” are as narrative and witty as a song that Jordan would have chosen: “Every kiss I take/Is a piece of cake/And to give me a sample/ Was your first mistake/’Cause I know when a little taste—want more/And now I want the whole darned bakery store.” But beyond the choice of material, Cooke and Jordan share fearlessness in their singing, swelling notes to make a point or turning in an instant from soft-sung introversion to bold entreaty. And to point out the similarities even further, “The Nearness of You” features Cooke singing accompanied only by bassist Cameron Brown, who played on the excellent Sheila Jordan duo CD, Accustomed to the Bass, prodding and dodging and responding in a sonic interaction.
Here’s to Life is more than a song on Cooke’s CD; it’s its theme. Although the liner notes give merely a glimpse of the experiences that formed her (including a black-and-white photo of Cooke singing during a talent contest at the age of twelve), like many other singers, she has wrapped up all of her life’s lessons in her music. And Cooke has chosen her repertoire accordingly. “With a Song in My Heart” emerges as a light-hearted samba, and even so, Cooke engagingly finds occasion for increasing volume, excitement creeping into the buoyancy, as she sings “I would see life through.”
The liner notes don’t explain how or why Cooke chose to record in both Los Angeles and New York studios, where she worked with top-shelf musicians like Paul Kreibich, David Lahm or Matt Wilson. Still, the results are similar, even as they are different. The continuity of the recording arises from the charms of Cooke’s voice. Accordingly, the musicians fill in the roles of accompanists, tastefully emerging to contribute their own solos that advance the music, such as West Coast pianist Dick Shreve’s tasty development in the middle of his own composition, “Bourbon Rain.”
Here’s to Life is a sleeper CD from a singer whose interpretations of its songs, varied and imaginative, no doubt will spark interest among its listeners and, with any luck at all, will lead to Lainie Cooke’s second CD.
Look for the indepth interview with Lainie in Jazz Improv Magazine, Volume 4, April/May 04
Burning jazz sidemen like pianist Ted Firth and bassist Cameron Brown help make cabaret singer Lainie Cooke live up to her last name. Stylish delivery makes “Bye Bye Blackbird” and the title track of “Here’s To Life.”
On her cover, Lainie Cooke seems strangely contorted, in danger of rolling backwards, in fact, and hitting her head. She's laughing, probably wondering why she let herself get talked into such an awkward position.
Pianist, arranger, Dick Shreve
leads a California trio (Maize, Kreibich) for five of Lainie Cooke's
tracks. Her supple soprano shows surprising warmth and ample dynamic
range as she correctly identifies Johnny Mercer's "Quit"
lyric (Jimmy Rowles wrote the music) for the erotic tease it's meant
to be. Her melodic variations on "Magic," make it a far
more personal story than the familiar Doris Day version, as nice
as Doris’ version was ... and still is. The trio really cooks
on a propulsive "Close," with some convincing scat by
Lainie. Bob Maize's resounding bass is strong in support. She gives
"In My Heart," a lavishly open, rhapsodic reading, with
Peter Woodford's guitar added to the rhythm ensemble. Is that a
bit of vocalese overdubbing at the very end? It's a welcome little
touch. "Bourbon" is a Shreve original, a boilerplate saloon
song with a better lyric than the title suggests. Lainie sells it,
and I bought it…greedily. The East Coast trio, with Tedd Firth
on piano, is just as solid as the West. Joey Morant adds some deliciously
smeary trumpet to "Found Out" and "Blackbird,"
and Lainie lives her "Life," with Cameron Brown's powerful
bass tones behind her, as well as Matt Wilson's subtle drum accents
bristling athwart. Her joy is infectious and quite a contrast to
Shirley Horn's dolefully halting take (3/93, p.86) on the same song.
Lainie undresses "Nearness" melodically, with Cameron
Brown her only accompanist and together they make it a dazzling
pas de deux. Another duet follows as David Lahm takes over
at the piano for his only appearance on the disc, acting as the
singer's sole support for a gorgeous reading of "Sea."
This would seem to suggest another New York recording date entirely,
but with only one track to show for it? One wonders what that was
all about. The Firth trio returns for a boppish "As Long,"
with Lainie indicating a certain regard for Anita O'Day's way of
disregarding time lines. The grand finale is an all-stops-out version
of Cole Porter's "Do It," on which Ms. C. does not shy
away from the "Chanticleer" verse, and in so doing would
seem to compliment her audience on their acquaintance with Chaucer.
An exciting and beautifully executed debut CD, from a singer who's
been on the scene for some twenty years without making a recording.
Thankfully, she finally has, and it was well worth the wait. One
note-which may clear up some confusion about the tune, "Don't
Quit Now." It's usually listed as "Baby, Don't You Quit
Now," as on Carol Sloane's and Ella Fitzgerald’s recordings
of same. But, just to add to the confusion, according to Vol. 19,
pg. R685 of the Lord Discography, when Rowles himself recorded the
tune, it came up titled simply, "Baby Don't Quit Now."
All titles, however, lead to the same tune. The lyrics themselves
would seem to validate the Sloane and Fitzgerald versions of said
Being a bi-coastal artist for many years it is appropriate that Lainie Cooke's first ever recording features players from New York and Los Angeles. Both sets of musicians support Lainie beautifully. Her interpretations of this tasty selection of tunes shows that not only is she concerned with lyrics but, more importantly, melodic and musical structure. From Cameron Brown's bass support on "The Nearness of You" to the CD title song "Here's to Life" it is evident that Lainie Cooke is in command of the lyrics and music. It is always a danger when doing familiar standards that what we hear are trite expressions. Not so here. Lainie Cooke makes us hear these tunes newly. We also hear "Bourbon Rain", an original by Dick Shreve rarely recorded before, delivered as comfortably as any other standard. Lainie's magic is hearing new avenues of presentation and phrasing. It's like having Thanksgiving dinner at a friends. The dishes are all familiar but the recipes are different. This big talent in a small package presents her voice powerfully and with confidence. Her choice of musicians on both coasts proves her commitment to Jazz. Very jazzy arrangements!!
It is surprising that this is Lainie's first recorded material. You would think that in 20 years someone in one of the studios she worked for as a 'voice' over artist would have discovered her other vocal abilities. Our only hope is that we hear more from Lainie both on disc and in live performance. If you want to know what Jazz singing is all about catch Lainie Cooke whenever you can.
The power in her voice gives Lainie Cooke an advantage over the competiton. She swings a program of familiar songs but what makes her performance stand out is that these interpretations are all her own. Everything in her vocal style turns out fresh new and exciting. Cooke has talent.
I can't possibly recall what I wrote about her in the last Millennium; I only know I dug the quality of her voice, I believed in her and I was so impressed by her intonation and phrasing. Nothing has changed regarding her talents or my reactions. I think it's a great album.
What knocks me out is that she is absolutely fearless whenever she is confronted by a bar line. She's so confident about her sense of time. And if words get in the way, she simply dispenses with them. I've always hated "It's Magic," because if the singer follows the songwriter's original notes, it becomes a sing-songy bore. Ah, but Lainie breathes new life in it. At times she re-writes it and improves it. (I guess that's what improvisation is all about.) She does the same kind of embroidery on "Nearness of You" and it's so refreshing.
"As Long As I Live" just began and her entrance almos made fall off the chair. She has such a perky musical sense of humor. Also...why don't more singers do Johnny Mandel's tune, "Shining Sea?" I only heard it once before, done as an instrumental. and besides, why haven't heard Joey Morant play before? the trumpeter is on only two tracks, but he also has a jazzman's sense of humor.
(oooh, what a nice modulation in "With A Song in My Heart.") You don't mind the real time comments do you? Hey dig that fade out (same tune)...great place to try some overdubbing. Oh I'm so glad she's included the intro to "Let's Fall in Love." Wow! Did you hear her last note? If my piano's in tune, that was a high C#!!! And she got up there seamlessly.
Talk about seamless...I cannot discern the slightest difference between recording techniques in L.A. and N.Y. She MUST have used her own mike on both sessions. I love the CD. Thanks so much for sending it to me.
Nice bass intro on "Blackbird" I just repeated that track because of the bass, Lainie, and that trumpeter. I'm glad it's the longest track; everyone was up for that one. See how he sneaked in "It's Been A Long Long Time?"
Lainie breathes lots of life through these dozen
classic jazz ballads. Along with the title track, there's "Close
Your Eyes", an upbeat arrangement of "Let's Do It' and
"Bye Bye BlackBird". The surrounding trio (quartet on
track 10) is solid as a rock allowing Cooke to fully express her
She's enthusiastic, innovative and romantic.
My favorite track here is the not often heard "Shining Sea".
Certainly she loves bass that is prominent in most of the well-done
charts. Beautiful CD packaging. I hear and appreciate everything
about this unique vocal album.
Copyright ©2003-2004, Lainie Cooke. All rights reserved.