Jazz may not be the chart-topping genre it once was, but plenty of pop singers have succumbed to the temptation of recording standards. The latest to venture into this minefield is English singer Seal, whose offering gives the big swing orchestra treatment to a programme which cherry-picks its way from the 1930s to 1960s jazz catalogue.
The album opens amiably enough with Luck Be A Lady. The introduction borrows from Billy May's stylish arrangement for Frank Sinatra's 1963 Reprise recording and Seal pulls off the easy Rat Pack strut which made Sinatra's take so memorable.
Seal's raspy baritone, however, lacks the velvety caress of Sinatra's and hews closer to Tony Bennett's gritty belting style. This is not necessarily a shortcoming as Seal is a canny veteran who navigates his way easily through ballads such as Autumn Leaves, although songs such as They Can't Take That Away From Me and Smile test his fraying upper registers.
He also gets some stellar backup in the form of cool German trumpeter Till Bronner on a smoky take of I Put A Spell On You as well as The Puppini Sisters in a charmingly perky I'm Beginning To See The Light.
The one discordant note is the disconcertingly breezy, verging on muzak, bossa nova arrangement for Love For Sale, which is completely at odds with Cole Porter's cynical, world-weary lyrics.
But the two Christmas chestnuts - Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow and The Christmas Song - close the album on a cosily seasonal note. All in all, worth streaming on your devices. Just delete Love For Sale from the songlist.
Ong Sor Fern
INSPIRATIONS & DREAMS
Luiza Borac, piano
Profil PH17000 (2 CDs)
This double-disc album is Romanian pianist Luiza Borac's tribute to her compatriot, violinist-composer and polymath George Enescu (1881-1955), or Georges Enesco in the Gallicised version of his name.
Enescu, who is probably best known as Yehudi Menuhin's teacher and mentor, studied in Paris during the turn of the 19th century and kept company with the likes of Debussy, Ravel and Nadia Boulanger. This heady era of musical experimentation and emerging modernism is celebrated by works such as Debussy's 12 Etudes, Ravel's Gaspard De La Nuit and La Valse, all repertoire staples, which Borac performs with virtuosic flair and stylistic sophistication.
Rarities include first recordings of two waltzes and a four-voiced Fugue by Enescu which, although derivative, are charming and well-crafted. Who would have thought that Enescu would have written piano transcriptions of Sarasate's Gypsy Airs (originally for violin) or his rip-roaring First Romanian Rhapsody? These are unusual takes which do not sound completely idiomatic, but make for enjoyable listening.
Equally pleasurable are the Five Bagatelles by fellow countryman Marcel Mihalovici. This curious collection is rounded up with a lively performance of Schumann's Piano Concerto with the Romanian National Radio Orchestra and a two-minute encore of Ahnung, a fragment discarded from Kinderszenen (Scenes Of Childhood) that was discovered in 2009 and premiered by Borac.
Chang Tou Liang