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Having had an impressive career as a back-up singer — with Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin and Steely Dan, among others — La Tanya Hall has stepped into the spotlight. In 2008, she recorded her debut album as a leader, It’s About Time. Say Yes is her long-overdue encore.
For this project, the singer is joined by pianist Andy Milne, bassist John Hebert and drummer Clarence Penn, with two appearances from trumpeter Michael Leonhart. Milne’s modern and often-surprising arrangements lend new life to a set comprising mostly standards, inspiring Hall to be at her most adventurous.
Blessed with a beautiful voice, Hall has the emotional range of an opera singer along with the desire to stretch in spontaneous ways. Milne’s frameworks challenge her on most of the selections. “All You Need To Say” (the vocalized version of Nat Adderley’s “Say Yes”) was given a classic rendition by Karrin Allyson and Nancy King a few years ago. This swinging version features Milne’s modal-oriented piano, Leonhart’s muted trumpet and Hall’s sensual wordless vocalizing toward the song’s conclusion. The singer displays the power of her instrument on the soulful (and partly out-of-tempo) ballad “Because I Told You So.” And “Poor Butterfly” perfectly suits her voice; both its range and slow tempo allow her to be at her most emotional.
Of the other highlights, “Whisper Not” benefits from Milne’s infectious rhythm, while “Softly As in a Morning Sunrise” presents an expressive vocal-bass duet. “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” receives a floating treatment, with implied rather than stated time, and “Jitterbug Waltz” is given a purposely ragged interpretation that gets a bit demented.
Finally commanding center stage, Hall displays plenty of potential to remain there. — Scott Yanow