Dear Shirley Horn was laid to rest on November 3, 2005. A distinctive, emotional singer as well as brilliant pianist, Horn crafted an instantly recognizable style and a body of work that was often moving beyond words.
While she's hailed far and wide as one of the finest ballads singers ever, this accolade alone misses the point. Horn was a complete musician. Few could swing harder, dig deeper, mine the blues so truly and, of course, live a lyric so soulfully. For each of the slow-crawl ballads, subtly pulsing no matter how leisurely the gait, she would find the afterburners with rising tempos, demanding both fire and filigree from her intrepid bandmates.
To make the case for The Best of Shirley Horn, Verve would have to cover more territory than what this one disc offers. But rather than quibble, let’s rejoice that we hear—from Horn’s salute to Ray Charles (Light Out of Darkness, arguably, her most elemental session); one of the duets with Miles Davis from the You Won’t Forget Me session; a sultry “Fever” from The Main Ingredient, where she invited the band into her Washington, DC home to speak its mind; and slices from Here’s to Life, her quintessential vocalist-with-strings set. There are also three tracks from her brave engagement at Le Jazz Au Bar in New York in January of 2005.
Even though this set is merely an entry into Horn’s work, we are treated to two of her all-time classic ballad performances: “Here’s to Life” and “You Won’t Forget Me” (with Davis). And the slow burns of “Nice ‘n’ Easy” and “Fever” showcase the driving force of Horn’s swing, churchy and blue. “I Just Found Out About Love” offers proof positive of her predilection to raise the roof at quick tempos. She had it all, from diaphanous near-whispers to steely grit, and her deft piano playing matched each sung inflection to perfection.
When I first heard Horn on a Nebraska radio station more than two decades ago (a track from the little-known Where Are You Going?), I was hooked instantly. In person, there were nights here and there when she simply gave the people their money’s worth. But most other nights, she possessed the room and our hearts. God’s speed to Shirley Valerie Horn Deering.
By Andrew Rowan - allaboutjazz.com
Technorati tag: Jazz