June 14, 2024
Marlena Shaw
Elemental Soul

by Andrew Rowan

Elemental Soul marks the second stop on Marlena Shaw’s Concord Jazz odyssey. An impressive recording, it is firmly rooted in the bedrock of Shaw’s singular talent. Choosing songs from the wide spectrum of American music — jazz, blues, gospel, rhythm-and blues — Marlena Shaw unifies these related but highly individualized strains, creating her own jazz sound-world.

Mose Allison’s southern-fried blues, “Your Mind Is On Vacation,” compliments Otis Blackwell’s salacious blues opus, “Handy Man.” Shaw’s own gospel cri de coeur, “Why, Oh Why,” is soothed by the hopefulness of Benny Carter’s “Brothers.” Bill Withers’ soul-ballad “Paint Your Pretty Picture” and Irving Berlin’s standard “How Deep Is The Ocean” are both dressed up in contemporary style — as are “My Old Flame” and the Monk/Williams/Hanighen classic, “‘Round Midnight.”

Ever mindful of the more traditional strains of jazz singing, defined by Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Marlena Shaw essays trenchant versions of “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” “I’m Alone Again” (yet another heartbreaker from the fertile imaginings of the late, lamented Alec Wilder and Loonis McGlohon) and “Once Again We’ve Begun To Love” (a sweetly swinging opus from long-time Shaw collaborator Bill Tragesser). And, best of all, there’s Johnny Mandel’s “Where Do You Start?,” where she inhabits the melody and illuminates every nuance of Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s lyric.

From beginning to end, Marlena Shaw is attended to by an intrepid group of musicians. Tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, her special guest, places his imprint on the proceedings in his immediately recognizable style. Pianist Dave Hazeltine, who also appeared on Dangerous, Marlena Shaw’s first Concord Jazz session, is sensitive in his accompaniment and probing in his solos. Shaw states, “He understands what I’m trying to do, so I don’t have to make any compromises in my approach.” Drummer Jerry Jones, an 18-year Shaw confrere, and bass stalwart Earl May create a comfort zone, allowing the singer to soar fearlessly into the clouds, sure of her anchor below.

Marlena Shaw’s vocal prowess results from years of hard work honing her considerable God-given talents. A native of Valhalla, New York, she appeared at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater at age 10, but it was not until later — beginning in the 1960’s — that she earnestly began her performing career, working, initially, up and down the East Coast. The big breakthrough came when her vocal version of Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” became a hit, leading her to joining Count Basie’s orchestra, where she remained for more than four years. Leaving the Band in 1972, Marlena Shaw has since pursued a well received career. Her singing has reached the far corners of the earth? and in each place where she has performed, she has been hailed for her straight-from-the-heart approach.

With Elemental Soul and its Concord Jazz predecessor Dangerous? the fully matured artist has finally come forth, unfettered by commercial restraints, corporate interference and personal doubts. As Shaw herself has said, “As you mature, it should show. There is less fear.”

Elemental Soul is perhaps the quintessential embodiment of that sentiment, for there is no fear. With its release, the public can hear this scintillating distillation of all Marlena Shaw has seen, heard and sung during a lifetime spent making music. The experience is one of life’s finer pleasures: bold, soulful, intense, swinging and, above all, deeply moving. Stop by and witness an artist at the top of her game.

Your Mind Is On Vacation
Paint Your Pretty Picture
How Deep Is The Ocean
Where Do You Start?
Once Again We’ve Begun To Love
Handy Man
Why, Oh Why
‘Round Midnight
I’m Alone Again
My Old Flame
Our Love Is Here To Stay
Marlena Shaw – vocals
Dave Hazeltine – piano
Earl May – bass
Jerry Jones – drums
Stanley Turrentine – tenor saxophone
Barnaby Finch – keyboards
Terry Miller – electric bass
Michael Spiro – percussion

See also: The Concord Records Marlena Shaw Bio

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