Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lush Life (Groove Note; GRV1011-2; 2001)
Published in BigO No. 198 (June 2002)

By Mark Wong

Somehow, my thoughts of Jacintha are always intrinsically tied with memories of her dressed up as an Indian princess and dancing around a coconut tree with Dick Lee.

Bah Mustapha! Maybe I'll never be able to wipe that out of my memory, but Jacintha's third jazz album for Groove Note (after Here's To Ben and Autumn Leaves: The Songs Of Johnny Mercer) does transport me into an alternate realm where men are dressed in neatly pressed suits, women in slinky, clingy dresses swirling sweet wine, and Jacintha is up there on a red-carpeted platform, with jazz ensemble behind her.

Much praise has been lavished on Bill Cunliffe's production and crisp arrangement work--all very much deserving, I assure you. He knows when to practise restrain, like on the softly swinging "Black Coffee", and when to heighten the drama of a song like "The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams", when he brings in Frank Marocco on a lonesome accordian solo, followed by a climactic drum march with string ensemble.

An obvious reference point for this album would be Jacintha's contemporary Diana Krall. While I have enjoyed some of Krall's earlier work, I find that she's lost some of her former piquancy; The Look Of Love seems to find Krall taking her international fame for granted and belting out quite lifeless tunes.

Jacintha, however, demonstrates a voice of silk, full of breathy passion and quiet intimacy. She's got some attitude going on George and Ira Gershwin's "Summertime", and tames and conquers Billy Strayhorn's difficult "Lush Life" with abundant grace. When she finally reaches the last track with a poignant melancholy rendition of "Smile", her elliptical phrasing absolutely breaks hearts.

The only problem now is that once I've started listening to this disc, I have to put it on repeat mode--once the music stops the images of coconut trees return to haunt me. Oh, Jacintha! (8)

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