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It Happens Quietly

Jacqui Dankworth

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

3-5 out of 5

It Happens Quietly

An album that will not only hold considerable appeal to established jazz listeners but may also bring the voice Jacqui Dankworth to a wider constituency.

Jacqui Dankworth

“It Happens Quietly”

(Specific Jazz SPEC014)

As most jazz listeners will already know singer Jacqui Dankworth is the daughter of Dame Cleo Laine and the late Sir John Dankworth. Her latest album, “It Happens Quietly” has attracted a good deal of attention both in the specialist jazz press (there’s a major feature by Andy Robson in the September 2011 edition of Jazzwise magazine) and beyond with Dankworth talking about the making of the album on Radio 4’s flagship arts programme “Front Row”.

The main reason for the increased media interest is that the album features arrangements by Jacqui’s late father Sir John Dankworth. “It Happens Quietly” is the collection of standards that father and daughter had planned for years but only got around to collaborating on in the last months of Sir John’s life when it had become obvious that he wasn’t going to be around for ever. Jacqui had previously avoided tackling standards and kept delaying the project in an attempt to avoid comparisons with the work of her parents but this time it was different. Sir John penned many of the arrangements from his sick bed and was ably assisted by his long term collaborator and “right hand man” Ken Gibson. The result is a warm, lush album heavy with strings and Jacqui’s warm, breathy vocals.

Sir John himself can be heard counting in a string laden “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” which opens the album. Another Dankworth family member, brother Alec, can be heard on double bass alongside one of Jacqui’s regular collaborators pianist Malcolm Edmonstone . Jimmy Hastings, one of a number of brass and woodwind players adds a delightfully delicate flute solo and Jacqui delivers a deliciously velvety vocal wrapped up inside a lushly enveloping Dankworth/Gibson arrangement.

Cole Porter’s “In The Still Of The Night” is given a more playful, Latin tinged arrangement paced by a subtly swinging Steve Brown at the drums. Guitarist Chris Allard turns in a lively but elegant bop flavoured solo and guest saxophonist Karen Sharp weighs in with some breezy tenor. Jacqui’s vocal is typically intimate and yearning, as Andy Robson points out in his Jazzwise review her training as an actress really helps her get inside each song and to bring out the full meaning of the lyric.

The title track was written by Sir John Dankworth in collaboration with Buddy Kaye and mixes lush orchestration with intimate small group jazz with Tim Garland the guest soloist on gently probing soprano sax.

Although more sparsely arranged the Jimmy Dorsey/Paul Mertz standard “I’m Glad There Is You” (chosen for this project by Dame Cleo Laine and inspired by a version sung by Ella Fitzgerald) preserves the mood of intimacy with a typically pure vocal and a tasteful piano solo from the consistently excellent Edmonstone.

A Dave Grusin tune, ” A Love Like Ours”, written in collaboration with Alan and Marilyn Bergman represents a rare move away from the “Great American Songbook”. It’s an inspired choice, the pared down arrangement emphasising the vulnerability of Jacqui’s voice with Basquiat Strings’ Ben Davis adding a brief but effective cello solo and with Edmonstone again excellent throughout.

The Victor Young/Ned Washington song “My Foolish Heart” is heavier on the strings but features neat solo breaks from Alec Dankworth at the bass and Edmonstone at the piano. Alec is one of the UK’s leading bass players and, for me, something of a personal favourite on the instrument.

“Make Someone Happy” marks the return to a more playful approach with a quirky but skilful arrangement plus sparling solos from Edmonstone and Allard as Brown and bassist Steve Watts keep things swinging. There’s a rare joyousness in Jacqui’s voice too on this rather more light hearted piece.

Oscar Levant’s much covered “Blame It On My Youth” has a minimal arrangement for just voice and piano. Jacqui does a superb job of interpreting the rarely heard lyrics (the tune is often treated as an instrumental). Edmonstone, as ever, is the perfect accompanist.

The Ted Koehler/Harold Arlen song “Ill Wind” receives a typically lush string arrangement with Jacqui’s voice and Karen Sharp’s warm, breathy tenor sax solo providing the meat of the jazz content.

The arrangement of Harry Warren’s “At Last” includes the low buzz of bass clarinets (Sharp and Hastings) and a second solo from Garland, this time on tenor, which weaves in and out of the track. Drummer Andrew Bain who has featured on most tracks thus far, but hitherto without mention, supplies suitably imaginative brushwork.

John Dankworth’s tune “The Man” was originally for pianist Stan Tracey. Jacqui later added words to the piece which is playfully delivered and includes a John Dankworth alto solo, recorded some five years earlier and inserted seamlessly into the piece via the wonders of modern musical technology. To keep it in the family Alec weighs in with a pithy bass solo. 

Finally comes the Oscar Hammerstein/Jerome Kern song “The Folks That Live On The Hill”, a paean to family life that sums up the spirit of this album perfectly. The arrangement is a total contrast to the lushness of much of the album, just voice and guitar with a superb performance from Chris Allard, but somehow this small scale intimacy just sounds right.

There’s no doubt that “It Happens Quietly” is a real labour of love and a very classy piece of work. It obviously holds a very deep personal significance for Jacqui Dankworth and although her singing is refined and elegant throughout she also invests these songs with a great deal of emotion in an understated, very English way. She receives great support from her arrangers- her father plus Ken Gibson and Malcolm Edmonstone- and the playing by a large cast of excellent British musicians is immaculate throughout.

It’s all rather too lush and mainstream for my personal tastes but “It Happens Quietly” is an album that will not only hold considerable appeal to established jazz listeners but may also bring the voice Jacqui Dankworth to a wider constituency. 

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