CD Review: Diane Schuur “Running on Faith”

September 21, 2020 | By | Add a Comment

Diane Schuur (Photo: Tim Courtney)

Sometime in the ‘90s, the Grammy Awards telecast decided to have all the nominees in all Jazz Vocal categories line up on the stage and join in a group rendition of “How High the Moon.”  Far stage right, last in line, was Sarah Vaughan; next to her, penultimate in the group, was Diane Schuur.  A week later I was having dinner in Manhattan with Sarah and artist Robert W. Richards.  The subject of the show came up.  Sarah turned to me and said, “Lord, that blind girl is loud!”

She was not wrong.  At the time, Schuur would let her big, brassy voice whip wildly over octaves and decibel levels – sometimes to spectacular results, other times to wearisome showing off.   But when she was good, she was terrific.

Over the years, that voice has lost some of its elasticity, and her lyric delivery has become more intimate and personal. As the title might indicate, she focuses in Running On Faith on a bluesy, gospel repertoire that has some great moments. Yet, some of the song choices are problematic at best and she does little to transform meager material into something meaty and nourishing.  The album opens with two anemic blues numbers, “Walking on a Tightrope” and “The Danger Zone” by Percy Mayfield.  Neither has much in the way of melody and the lyrics tend to be lame.  The singer does little to mask their weaknesses.  She gets on the right track with Miles Davis’s “All Blues,” low key and nicely delivered.  Paul Simon’s “Something So Right” fares even better as she really digs into the lyric.

A passionate yet intimate take on “Let It Be” (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) removes the few reservations that might remain from the first two numbers especially with an octave-leaping finale that offers an electrifying coda recalling her golden days.  Schuur’s gentle, thoughtful delivery serves Jeffrey Lynne’s lovely pop song,
“The Sun Will Shine on You,” beautifully.

She regains her blues chops on “Everyone Looks Good at the Starting Line” (Paul W. Thorn, William M. Maddox).  Her gospel roots and leanings come to the fore in a heart-pounding burst on “There is Always One More Time” (Jerome Pomus, Kenneth W. Hirsch).

The singer stays on top for the rest of the CD.  I particularly liked “Chicken” (Alfred J. Ellis) which is a fun throwback to a time when the likes of Jr. Walker & the All Stars and Cannonball Adderley could top the pop charts with a vocalize/instrumental number. Carol King’s “Way Over Yonder” is pop/blues at its best, and Clyde L. Otis’s “This Bitter Earth” is classic. The finale is an instrumental of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” (Traditional), arranged by the singer, reminding us all what a great pianist she is.  

My one complaint about the production is that I would love to have heard her piano more up front in the mix and/or featured more in the arrangements. Ernie Watts is listed as co-producer but he’s practically a co-star with fiery solos on tenor and soprano saxophone throughout. Other great musical support is provided by Kye Palmer on trumpet and flugelhorn, Thom Rotella on guitar, Bruce Lett on bass, and Kendall Kay on drums.  While this recording might not reach the heights of her best work, it’s great to have Diane Schuur back.

                                    

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About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit" – Words & Music by Jimmy Webb—and directed many cabaret artists, among them André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directed "The David Drumgold Variety Show" monthly at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He's taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London's Goldsmith's College, and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York's performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by cabaret and recording artists. Up until the pandemic, Gerry was an artist in residence at Pangea, presenting a monthly variety show called "Fabulous First Fridays."

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