Jazz Junction Review:MARY STALLINGS – FEELIN' GOOD – High Note Records

Apr 3, 2015

One can depend upon Mary Stallings to deliver a good album and yet with “Feelin' Good” she has recorded a quintessential jazz vocal outing. This release embodies all of the qualities that comprise a superior session. It's an album so steeped in jazz tradition and delivered with such consummate ease and style as to be irresistible. With solo spots for pianist Bruce Barth and vibist Steve Nelson (trumpeter Freddie Hendrix appears on “Night In Tunisia”) plus impeccable rhythmic support from bassist Peter Washington, percussionist Ray Mantilla and drummer Kenny Washington, the band is in fine form and enhances the marvelous atmosphere that Stallings sets up on each selection.

The evergreen “Close Your Eyes” is transformed into a swinging groover as Stallings effortlessly surrounds the lyrics with an innate, expressive sense for nuance. She sings a verse of “Try A Little Tenderness” as introduction to Neal Hefti and Bobby Troup's “Girl Talk”, embellished with the fine piano and vibes work of Bruce Barth and Steve Nelson. Nelson's vibes strike resplendent notes on another Hefti number, “Li'l Darling”. It's a delight to hear Stallings' phrasing as she glides through this one.

The Billy Eckstine ballad “I Want To Talk About You” embraces the essence of a late hours jazz vocal, soft and sumptuous. A similar mood is conveyed upon the Thelonious Monk number “Reflections” while a more upbeat “Monk's Dream” features solos from Barth and bassist Washington. Mantilla and Hendrix boost the exuberance of the jazz standard “Night In Tunisia” whereupon Stallings is having a good time sailing through the picturesque lyrics.

“Feeling Good” commences with just Barth's piano accompanying Stallings on an introspective introduction, then a few chords from Barth lift the beat as the number becomes a toe-tapping soul shout. An exotic treatment of “Afro Blue”, with Stallings' own lyrics, has Mantilla supplying a percussive beat to Nelson's vibes. And then there's Sam Cooke's “You Send Me” in a rendition that is laid back and sensuous. Again, the singer's sense of phrasing really transforms the number, making it something eminently attractive. The program closes with another evergreen, “Yesterdays”, the plaintive, life-worn quality of which is rendered with inflective emotion.

“Feelin' Good” is an outstanding album, it's selections delivered flawlessly by the epitome of a jazz vocalist, a true stylist who can bend lyrics and find new ways to elicit their essence. In a way, you've never heard these numbers until you have heard Mary Stallings perform them. It's that good. With her soothing voice, comfortable in her own skin style and the fine musical support, this release lives up to its title in every respect.

Musicians: Mary Stallings – vocals; Bruce Barth – piano; Steve Nelson – vibes; Freddie Hendrix – trumpet; Ray Mantilla – percussion; Peter Washington – bass; Kenny Washington – drums
Selections: Close Your Eyes; Try A Little Tenderness Introducing Girl Talk; Li’l Darling; I Want To Talk About You; Feeling Good; Reflections; Night In Tunisia; Monk’s Dream; Afro Blue; You Send Me; Yesterdays