(L.B. Records, CD, digital download)
On her debut album, Audrey Bernstein Loves Blue, local jazz singer Audrey Bernstein delves into the songbook of popular American jazz and regales us with a few of her favorite things. Though she doesn’t break new ground, Bernstein’s treatment of tunes by great composers such as George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cy Coleman is an amiable listen and adds a welcome new voice in Vermont jazz.
Bernstein doesn’t so much reinterpret this collection of semi-standards as much as she uses guile and sly charm to personalize them. Her take on beloved classics such as “Fever,” “Blue Skies” and “The Best Is Yet to Come” don’t typically stray too far from versions popularized by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan. But her soft, breathy tone and clean, playful phrasing lend the material a seductive intimacy.
Adding to that smoky, late-night lounge appeal is Bernstein’s backing band. The singer tapped some of Vermont’s best jazz talent to surround herself with a gently billowing tapestry of smooth sounds. Pianist Dan Skea complements Bernstein’s delicate delivery with subtle accents. Ditto guitarist Joe Capps. The rhythm combo of bassist John Rivers and Caleb Bronz is predictably excellent. And trumpeter Ray Vega proves a worthy melodic foil for Bernstein, matching her teasing croon with quiet, tastefully stylish sound.
As impressive as the band’s collective performance is, Bernstein rightly remains the focal point. She is solid throughout the record. And in certain moments, her performance borders on sublime. For example, her cooing interpretation of the Gershwins’ “A Foggy Day” is a standout in which she displays impressive control and emotive nuance. The same is true of Matt Dennis and Earl Brent’s “Angel Eyes.” Here, Bernstein’s playfulness is in full, flirtatious form as she winkingly invites us “happy people” to drink up.
If there is a criticism to be made of the record, it’s that Bernstein doesn’t seem particularly concerned with injecting any new ideas into these decades-old classics. She plays it all fairly straight. However, that criticism is offset by the fact that she is so comfortable within those preordained parameters. Because of Bernstein’s considerable talent and allure, it’s enough for her to simply give these old chestnuts voice anew.
Audrey Bernstein plays the Salaam clothing boutique on Church Street in Burlington this Friday, June 7. Audrey Bernstein Loves Blue is available at iTunes.