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Andy James has had a genuinely varied career. Raised in Australia, she performed internationally as a well-respected Flamenco dancer. In 2018, her husband, pianist and composer Piero Pata, founded Le Coq Records, and Rhythm of New York is her third release for the label.
In promotional material, James’ voice has been compared to Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Mahalia Jackson, among others, but it more closely resembles a mix of early Nancy Wilson and Blossom Dearie. The 15 compositions are roughly split between originals by the band members and pop/jazz standards (including “People,” “The Best Is Yet To Come” and three by Burt Bacharach). James covers the material earnestly, and she saves her best effort for last: a rendition of “I’ll Be Seeing You,” which opens with lovely accompaniment by Chico Pinheiro on nylon guitar. The album’s other highlight, “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” was arranged by her pianist, Jon Cowherd; it begins as an out-of-tempo ballad before merging into a slow groove — a performance fully independent of the Ray Charles classic.
While some stellar musicians are merely relegated to the background — most notably, trumpeter Terell Stafford and trombonist Marshall Gilkes — others shine with such radiance that the vocal contributions seem almost extraneous. Chris Potter, for example, is featured throughout (mainly on tenor, but also on soprano), and he rips into the changes with zesty enthusiasm. The session’s other saxophonist, Marcus Strickland, offers muscular solos on three other cuts. Bassist John Patitucci, who recently co-led an album with James and who arranged three of the pieces here, fully grounds the ensemble. And, on the two tunes co-written by James and Pata, “Time to Think” and “Just in Time,” the singer lays out completely, generously ceding the spotlight to her sidemen. — Sascha Feinstein