Jeannie Tanner speaks life to romance on “Words & Music.” The Chicago-based vocalist, trumpeter and composer performs her own songs on this latest release, but gives them a new spin with the help of some talented singers. Once listeners hear the two-disc recording, the universal appeal is clear. The work is unmistakably American. The words and lyrics are a version of jazz plain-speak that finds an audience everywhere. And the theme is easy enough: Love.
The songs date back to 2007 or so, and their creation was inspired by a range of objects and ideas from health club mirrors, the glamour of the 1930s and 1960s, and romance.
“You Can Kiss Me Into Anything”
Drums, piano and bass do a short run and the lyrics announce the song’s title. The story unfolds from there. The phrasing is reminiscent of “Peel Me a Grape,” especially the way the singer, Typhanie Monique’s lower registers get husky — the effect is two-fold. The sound makes the song sound whole, and there is that word “anything” — listeners are left to imagine their own romantic “anything” and the universality of the song is built.
This isn’t a song for dancing, per se — maybe swaying in a satin dress or best suit. The song is a conversation, a declaration. The narrative is not coy or reticent. The alliteration with “s” sounds in the chorus equals particularly good phrasing. Monique’s voice refuses to be typecast or easily predicted. The overall effect is a well-dressed wink from an age-old expression.
“Fred and Ginger”
It’d be difficult for listeners to hear this and not think of extravagant ball gowns and top hats and tails and dance moves that set a new standard. Vocalese welcomes listeners into the song, over the sprightly canter of piano and drums. The vocalese comes back between verses. The romance of the 1930s is alive and dancing here. Vocalese becomes an exercise in scatting as the song goes on. The scat is warm, and not comprised solely of syllables. Words that relate to the romantic theme are pronounced as if to remind listeners what the song is about.
The upright bass plays alone. Shadows from a jazz hall from yesteryear come to life, and listeners can imagine a vivacious singer poised in front of an old-fashioned microphone. The bass serves as an introduction as the vocalist sings unaccompanied for two beats. If the singer did not begin with a list of her negative traits, an early prediction about the trajectory of this song might be that it would go in the direction of noir nightlife. But no. The singer merely wants to set the record straight about who she is. The vocalist, Elaine Dame, offers here that same Anita Day-kind of quality, that “Peel Me a Grape” kind of attitude that permeates several songs on this release. And it works. The steely sparseness that characterizes the opening gets warmer as soulful piano and drums are added.
With two discs, 12 singers, plus Tanner’s band members, this release attempts to pack in a great deal players and talent. Such an approach could overwhelm some audience members. I recommend listeners pick a CD, randomize the order, and prepare to be surprised.