Sometimes an outfit so impressive takes to your ears with poise and confidence so exceptional that it almost overwhelms. Even the smoothest, gentlest aspects of jazz can strike with that impact, as though undoing themselves from musical bonds and taking flight with “no cares, no strings.”
So here’s Jackie Ryan and Listen Here, a supreme instance of the aforementioned.
The vigor of Ryan’s vocals goes without saying, but the assemblage of talent on this disc is off the chart. Featuring Gerald Clayton (organ, piano), John Clayton (bass), Gilbert Castellanos (trumpet), Graham Dechter (guitar), Obed Calvaire (drums), and Rickey Woodard (saxophone), Listen Here swings through blues, gospel, samba, and jazz with easy sway and hip know-how.
Things kick off with a swinging, bluesy rendition of “Comin’ Home Baby” as arranged by John Clayton. Calvaire sets the tone with a quick roll and a hot beat, allowing the brass to blend over his fills like a spicy bandstand act. Ryan sails in with her measured but swaggering vocals and exchanges barbs with Castellanos.
Another flavor comes from the gospel touches put in place on “Accentuate the Positive” by the bassist’s arrangement. Gerald Clayton adds zest with his Hammond B3, while Ryan hammers down the sermon-based lyrics by Johnny Mercer.
Yet another tone emerges with “I Loves You Porgy,” a deliberate lyrical choice made to reflect Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s original. Ryan’s crystal-clear enunciation is wonderful and it’s clear the tune resonates deep within. Clayton’s ivories fill out the spaces and Calvaire’s serene brushwork is stellar.
Dechter lines it up with “La Puerta,” the Spanish portion of what is clearly a very versatile program. Ryan sings tenderly about the end of a relationship, while the guitarist’s lithe accompaniment proves why the youngest member of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra is such an incredible talent.
Listen Here also includes the appearance of the superb “Before We Fall in Love,” a piece written by John Clayton. It is a gentle, glowing song with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Listen for Clayton’s warm but insistent bass-playing.
Flexible and impactful, Ryan’s Listen Here really is the sort of record people ought to call a “labor of love.” The musicians are an All-Star team of some of the best in modern jazz, while the singer’s lovely lyrical interpretations stun with depth, care and skill.