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Twenty years after the passing of Joe Williams, John Dokes seems primed to be one of the emerging jazz artists most likely to carry forth the legend’s elegantly refined soul-blues style. On True Love, the second in a planned trilogy of quintet albums that began with 2017’s Forever Reasons, Dokes uses his soulful, silky-smooth baritone to plumb fresh, alternately whimsical and deeply heartfelt ways to ponder the joys, pitfalls and vagaries of love and romance.
For the most part, the former champion Lindy hopper accomplishes this by swinging — sometimes subtly, sometimes with inspired abandon — through a set featuring Great American Songbook standards (Hammerstein and Kern’s “Nobody Else But Me,” Livingston and Evans’ “Never Let Me Go”), a rousing reworking of the Harold Arlen/Truman Capote-penned “A Sleepin’ Bee,” a light stroll through the lonely terrain of Lennon and McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby” and a sweetly innocent version of “Pure Imagination,” a song from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory that Dokes has long admired.
While it’s a thrill to hear Dokes’ caressing voice sing lyrics we’ve heard before from an insightful new perspective, it’s testament to his own skills as a songwriter that the lone original composition, the infectious and hip “Cool Enough,” stacks up beautifully with the classics here. On the tune, the singer muses whether he’s up to the standards of his new lover. After some energizing infusions of courage via brash improvisations by saxophonist Mark Gross and pianist Steve Einerson — rolling over the playful rhythm laid down by bassist Alex Claffy and drummer Lawrence Leathers — Dokes confidently declares that he’s woken up “next to a summer’s dream,” still a tad cautious but much more confident that she’s going to stay.
One spin through this enchanting 10-track outing should be enough for any fan of vocal jazz to feel pretty cool about Dokes’ promising future as an old-school soul-jazz stylist.—Jonathan Widran