DATEVIK with the LARRY WILLIS QUARTET:
Ballads from the Black Sea
Bound For Sound raves, “The beauty of her voice is in the subtleties, her gentle bending of a note not usually bent...small timing changes to create an emphasis in ways not used by sisters of similar style... This may be the finest example of a female voice available...” George Avakian (producer for Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra) raves: “The finest new voice I’ve heard in a quarter century.” Don’t let the CD title fool you. Datevik does good old favorite American jazz ballads, imbueing “Sophisticated Lady” and “Willow Weep For Me” with new emotion. On uptempo standards like “My Favorite Things” and “Perdido,” she cooks like no other current jazz singer. With Larry Willis, Igor Butman, Andy McCloud, and Steve Williams. (#04332)
Meanwhile, from Armenia comes a singer who seems to have made that gigantic leap from Black Sea to Ooh-Ooh-Pop-A-Dee, with a minimum of dislocation. The accent sneaks through, sure enough, but not as heavily as you might expect. As if to catch up with her Western counterparts, Datevik chooses a program of chestnuts that have long ago dispatched in style. She has learned much from recordings: that is made clear by the echoes of Sarah, Carmen, Anita, et al., one hears in her confident contralto. And, of course, the support of a premium rhythm team (which many first-recording domestic canaries couldn't even dream of) doesn't hurt one little bit. In fact, she feels so comfortable, so at ease, so much in the protective awning of friendly fire, that she tackles the scatty "Confirmation" with something approaching audacity. The presence of tenorist Igor Butman, a fellow excursionist from what used to be the Soviet Union, must have been a definite plus on the session's unction meter. He apparently played with her in (Eastern) Europe and lends himself to the reunion with ardent acquiescence. Whether swinging with ease (Light) or negotiating the inner logic of ballads with hairpin turns (Lady), this young vocalist, the daughter of "Armenia's leading traditional folksinger," forges a more than credible landing on our Jazz vocal shore. I was just the least bit puzzled by the length of time between recording and releasing, but Mapleshade says simply that they take their time in production and distribution, primarily because they are sparsely staffed and not in the hurry-up business.
Bound For Sound:
Recording of Merit. Datevik is a female jazz singer from Armenia. Touted as the number one jazz singer in the Soviet Union back in 1990, Pierre Sprey discovered her for these sessions via a phone call from a Russian friend. The demo tapes indicated that she had talent in spite of the poor overall quality of the recordings and backup personnel. In the liner notes Pierre refers to a "...thrilling quality in her voice. It had the echoes of the earthy, passionate contralto edge that, to my ear, links many of the world's best female singers." Putting a first rate rhythm section together was a must if her potential was to be realized in the studio; calls went out to Larry Willis, Igor Butman, Andy McCloud and Steve Williams. Not everyday names, but key men behind the likes of Shirley Horn, Miriam Makeeba and Betty Carter.
The recording is an eclectic collection of songs that would seem to have little to do with the Black Sea, save one. Expecting ethnic folk songs or old Russian ballads, I was in auditory shock when confronted by the extremely conventional, but not lacking in imagination, arrangements of standards like Perdido, Sophisticated Lady, My Favorite Things, and My One and Only Love. All standard stuff, but done in a very hip, yet true to tradition kind of way.
But it wouldn't work were it not for the voice of this lady. Her voice isn't what one would call distinctive or unusual at first listen. No, the beauty of her singing is in the subtleties, her gentle bending of a note not usually bent, and how she makes small timing changes to create an emphasis in ways not used by sisters of similar style such as Shirley Horn and Ella Fitzgerald.
And as far as the recording goes, this may be the finest example of a female voice available to the general music buying public. Pierre Sprey has hit another one out of the park sonics wise. Datevik sounds alive and perfectly focused between the speakers. She soars and whispers, and Pierre has caught it all. The percussion is a little distant for my tastes, but does anyone in the business overall make a better sounding recording? Not in my book.
Russian producer-impresario George Avakian, cultural bias blinders squarely covering his eyes, declares this Russian emigre "The finest new voice I've heard in a quarter century..." Well George, from a standpoint of ballad singing Datevik is certainly a contender, though there are other measuring sticks for declaring finery. First heard and seen widely on BET's Jazz Discovery program, it's nice to see someone from that worthy showcase make the leap to a recording label. And Datevik has certainly made strides, if not leaps, from where she was at that point.
She's blessed with a throaty contralto that fares best in ballad form, as with her dreamy rendering of Thad Jones' classic "A Child Is Born." The ballad form displays how she lets the chords breathe, the mark of the classic balladeer. Uptempo she doesn't fare quite as well, as evidenced by her straining on certain passages to make "My Favorite Things." It's almost like the uptempo pieces are bridges to reach the next ballad on the record. The cast is strong, with countryman Igor Butman on tenor sax, producer Larry Willis on piano, Andy McCloud on bass and Shirley Horn's guy Steve Williams on drums.