Album Title: With a Song in my Heart
Performer: Gill Manly
Label and #: Linn Records SACD AKF328 (available also as FLAC, WMA and MP3 downloads)
Play Time:
Recorded: Underhill Studios London, Feb. 19/20 2008

I am not the resident Jazz expert, Ken is. But sometimes a recording just transcends tastes and styles and Gill Manly's With a Song in my Heart is just such a one. Manly has not put singing to disc since 1996, focusing on her spiritual quest and occasional live performances for more than a decade instead. For this long-awaited effort which marks the end of her self-imposed retirement, she did not follow the easy path however.

With a Song in my Heart is clearly meant as tribute to the great Ella Fitzgerald with songs like "A Night in Tunisia" and many Jazz standards like "Taxi Driver" or "Midnight Sun". On this album, Manly avoids even some of her more gutsy bluesy singing to provide us instead with a more intimate and emotional, almost sensual interpretation as if trying to emulate Ella again with a very personal touch, a slight edge that she can't or won't completely forego.

Manly manages to bring to life those well-known songs in a fashion that still surprises. She draws from her experience as an actress and decades of life performance to always keep the audience both comfortable and off balance. Only the most mature singers manage the exceedingly challenging task of making great classics sound new without making a fool of themselves but Manly does with talent while creating a clear bond with Ella.

If not enough for our pleasure already, throughout this disc Manly also keeps a powerful ace up her sleeve. Guy Barker's muted trumpet is an unexpectedly warm counterpoint to Manly's most intimate moments. It's not Ella and Louis nowhere near. This is a more caressing and engaged duo, one that gives "A Night in Tunisia" a more languid feeling than Ella ever achieved. If you let Manly and Barker guide you, you will smell the warm nights of the southern Mediterranean sea. Served beautifully by Linn's always excellent recording, Manly took me by surprise and had me rethink what I thought of contemporary female jazz singers. Whether you love jazz or not, you too should discover her as well since great music-making absolutely transcends boundaries and styles.