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Even during more normal times, Eugenie Jones’ goal would have been difficult to achieve. The singer wanted to record with four different all-star groups, one apiece in each area of the U.S. (New York, Dallas, Chicago and Seattle). Somehow she managed to pull it off in the middle of a pandemic.
While she has only been a professional jazz singer for the past decade, after raising a family and working on other careers, Jones has developed her own personal style, which can be heard on her two previous recordings (Black Lace Blue Tears and Come Out Swingin’). But, more than being a deft vocalist, Jones has also proven to be a skilled songwriter, debuting 19 of her songs on those two projects.
The two-disc set Players features 10 more of her originals along with inventive versions of five standards, some of which are fairly obscure. Jones is joined by 28 musicians in groups ranging from a septet to trios, utilizing such notables as bassists Reggie Workman and Lonnie Plaxico, pianist James Weidman, organist Delvon Lamarr, trumpeters Jay Thomas and Marquis Hill, trombonist Julian Priester, drummer Bernard Purdie and percussionist Bobby Sanabria.
Throughout, Jones, who has an attractive voice, displays her versatility. The first disc starts with an uptempo scat-filled “I Got Rhythm” (also featuring drummer Quincy Davis). She displays her love of Latin jazz on the infectious “These Are Thorns” and “Ultimo Baile en Casa,” the latter of which prominently features Sanabria; revives the forgotten Irving Berlin song “You Can Have Him”; sounds particularly beautiful on Billy Strayhorn’s haunting “Multicolored Blue”; and examines the complexities of being in the music field as an African American on “Ey Brother.” Highlights of the second disc include the soulful strut “Sittin’ at the Bar,” an assertive “Red Dress,” the sensuous “But I Do,” and a saucy version of Nina Simone’s “Do I Miss You?”
This bluesy and soulful set serves as an excellent introduction to Jones’ singing and writing for anyone who may have missed her earlier releases. They’ll know not to sleep on the next one. — Scott Yanow