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Disc review: Rachel Caswell, “All I Know”

Jazz

Rachel Caswell

"All I Know: Duets with Dave Stryker and Jeremy Allen" [Turtle Ridge]

3.5 stars

“You Don’t Know What Love Is” is one of the small but authentic miracles of what we’ve come to call the Great American Songbook. It was, somewhat incredibly, originally written to make its debut in an Abbott and Costello movie but it never made it. Just as incredibly, it did make its debut in a Ritz Brothers movie.

It is one of the greatest American torch songs of all time – “gloom in the raw” composer Alec Wilder admiringly called the integrity of Gene de Paul’s melody. Even more powerful was the lyric of Don Raye, who also gave us “The House of Blue Lights” and the similarly stark “Just for a Thrill.” (“Do you know how a lost heart fears/the thought of reminiscing?/And how lips that taste of tears/Lose their taste for kissing?” is one quatrain from “You Don’t Know What Love Is” that required a Billie Holiday to fully understand.)

What 30-something singer Rachel Caswell does with it on her second disc here is truly remarkable. The disc is a series of duets – most with superb guitarist Dave Stryker, a veteran of The Buffalo News Jazz at the Albright-Knox series, but some with bassist Jeremy Allen. It is Allen playing double time with whom Caswell sings “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Despite Allen’s double time and Caswell’s own scat-singing improvisation in the middle, the song doesn’t completely lose the power and majesty that Holiday found. It is a terrific performance by the singer, whose taste is impeccable. Listen also, for instance, to what she does with “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” “For All We Know,” its kissing cousin Jimmy Webb’s “All I Know,” and “One for My Baby.” She even gets away with singing “The 59th Street Bridge Song” without sounding simple-minded (simple-hearted perhaps, but not simple-minded).

To be able to carry off a complete record of duets like this requires a singer of perfect intonation and virtually infallible taste, as well as no small amount of the essential jazz swing that once caused musicians to call Ella Fitzgerald “Lady Time.”

It is no secret that jazz is no longer a hugely popular music in terms of money flowing into its various venues and media. Singers have long been its major successes which has made female jazz singers, especially younger ones, a glut on the market.

Amid far too many singers who are forgettable in a variety of negligible ways, Caswell is a hugely memorable standout. She’s one worth a devoted following.

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