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A remarkable voice and singer

Live in Montreaux: 91-97
Live in Montreux – 91-97
By Rachelle Ferrell

Blue Note Records: 2002

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This review first appeared in the Summer 2003 issue of Turbula.

Coming as it does on the heels of her R&B/alternative release of 2000, "Individuality (Can I Be Me)," this collection of live performances from the Montreaux Jazz Festival might seem out of place in the chronology of vocalist Rachelle Ferrell.

But what this collection of staight-ahead jazz performances shows is how individualistic a singer Ferrell already was when firmly planted in the jazz orbit.

While the presentation of songs on the disc offers the sound of a single set (the applause between songs is uninterrupted), and while the song title suggests a series of performances, in fact these tracks are pulled from only two separate dates. Songs 1-9 are from 1991; the last three are from 1997.

But even in the very earliest tracks, from shortly after she was signed by Blue Note, it was clear that this was a singer with a distinct voice that had much more to offer jazz than a remarkable six-octave range. A decade of playing with top-rank jazz musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie, had obviously prepared Ferrell for the Montreaux stage, for she combines technique and artistry in a spellbinding manner.

Her cover of the Sam Cooke pop standard, "You Send Me," is mind-blowing in both its musical complexity and in the pure simplicity of its appealing beauty. She turns in equally turned-out covers of "You Don't Know What Love Is" and "My Funny Valentine," while also showing off her own songwriting chops with originals like "Don't Waste Your Time" and "I Can Explain," which more than hold their own against the classics.

And just when you think you've got her pegged as a street-smart jazz-pop stylist with an urban edge, she switches gears for a two-song tribute to French chaunteur Charles Aznavour that is startling for its straight-ahead power.

The conclusion? There's not much, if anything, that this woman can't do with her voice.