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Kelly Dickson

Vocal Point


by Ian Mann

August 08, 2006


Sensual, classy. A musical triumph.

Kelly Dickson is a well-travelled young lady. Born in Northern Ireland, raised in Northern England and now resident in London she has certainly seen a lot of the UK.

A graduate of the jazz studies degree course at Middlesex University she has been making waves on the London music scene as well as maintaining a presence in Leeds where she first commenced her studies.

For this, her debut recording Dickson has travelled further afield and has recorded the bulk of this album in New York with a band of top-notch American musicians. Two tracks were recorded back in London in a duo with British pianist Nikki Iles. Iles is particularly adept at working with singers having previously worked in a highly successful duo with the excellent Tina May. May is one of this country’s finest singers and speaks very highly of Dickson. Praise indeed.

The name of Dickson’s record label suggests a great confidence in her own abilities. So does choosing to record your debut album in New York City. From the evidence of this album that self-confidence is well justified. From Dickson’s very first phrase on the opener “Close Your Eyes” it’s obvious that “Vocal Point” is going to be a cut above most of the releases by female jazz singers in what has become a very crowded market place. Dickson has an innate feel for jazz that makes her stand out from the crowd. Her phrasing is impeccable and she really gets inside a song and tells a story on songs like “Baltimore Oriole” and “Everything Happens To Me”. She has a way with a ballad too such as “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”- arguably the album’s stand out track. There is an emotional depth to her singing that many other superficially similar singers don’t get close to.

Of course it helps having excellent musicians around her. The album is co-produced by Dickson and Gene Perla, one time bass player with Dave Liebman’s band. As well as doing a fine job in the producer’s chair Perla also plays bass brilliantly throughout the album. He is joined in the rhythm section by drummer John Riley whose sensitive, unhurried playing adds much to the album’s success. Tim Harrison is equally sympathetic on piano and the smoky tenor sax of George Garzone adds much to a cool, jazz club atmosphere that is unmistakably New York.

The material is all drawn from the Great American Songbook but is consistently interesting. There are some rarely heard gems but even the more ubiquitous material is executed so well that for once familiarity doesn’t breed contempt. The singing and playing on this album are so good that the old criticism of lack of original material is rendered irrelevant.

“Close Your Eyes” sets the standard with Dickson’s coolly authoritative vocal, Harrison’s rolling piano and Riley’s subtle drumming.

“It Could Happen To You” with Perla’s muscular walking bass is just as fine. Dickson sounds great, Harrison shines again and Perla shows his subtle side in a brief and dexterous solo.

Hoagy Carmichael’s rarely heard “Baltimore Oriole” is the first of the duets with Nikki Iles. It’s not a song I was familiar with before but Dickson tells this American tale superbly and with such conviction that you forget she’s actually British. As you would expect the talented Iles proves to be the perfect accompanist. Terrific stuff and definitely one of the album’s highlights.

Frank Loesser’s ballad “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” is equally convincing with Dickson’s tender and wistful vocal sympathetically accompanied by Harrison’s piano. However it is Garzone’s beautiful, atmospheric tenor solo that elevates the song to star billing.

“Stella By Starlight” is arguably one of those standards we’ve heard far too much of. It is to the credit of Dickson and the band that they imbue it with a sparkling freshness. Garzone and Harrison take he instrumental honours well supported by Perla and Riley who swing mightily.

“Everything Happens To Me” shows off Dickson’s story telling and balladeering talents in the course of a single song. The band offer their by now customary sympathetic support with Perla’s woody, resonant bass solo a particular highlight.

“I Got You Under My Skin” is another of those over familiar numbers. This duet version with Nikki Iles is well above the average and Iles’ playing is particularly fine. Personally I can’t get the definitive Frank Sinatra version out of my head so this is the only track that doesn’t really work for me.

“April In Paris” works much better with Dickson’s sensual vocal and Harrison’s rippling piano.

“Cheek To Cheek” brings the album to an upbeat conclusion. Perla and Riley’s driving swing coaxes another great jazz vocal performance from Dickson and another towering solo from Garzone.

“Vocal Point” is a very classy record and a musical triumph. It’s the best album of its type that I’ve heard for a long time and if she can maintain these standards the future should be very bright for Kelly Dickson.

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