Sophisticated Ladies (on EmArcy Records) is bassist Charlie Haden's latest project with his regular small group, Quartet West, and the quartet's first since illness forced the departure of long-serving drummer Larance Marable.
Marable has a worthy successor in Rodney Green, and the line-up of Haden on double bass, Alan Broadbent on piano and Ernie Watts on tenor saxophone remains otherwise unchanged.
They are, however, augmented by a star cast of guest vocalists. Haden decided it was time to record a sequel of sorts to 1999's The Art of the Song, several of the high points of which featured guest vocalist Shirley Horn.
This time he chose to work with one singer apiece for six of the album's 12 tracks, cutting the rest instrumentally with the Quartet. Some tracks are augmented by strings arranged by Broadbent.
The least known singer is Haden's wife and collaborator Ruth Cameron. The others are up-and-coming star Melody Gardot, the well-established Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall and Norah Jones, and the surprise inclusion, classical soprano Renee Fleming.
The Quartet is as usual in fine form. My Love and I, which Wilson sings, is a premier performance of a Johnny Mercer lyric, set to a tune previously heard only as an instrumental. Gardot gives a nuanced, understated performance of If I'm Lucky, while Fleming extracts rather more drama from Victor Young's A Love Like This.
Norah Jones was offered the opportunity to contribute one of her own songs, but elected instead to tackle Ill Wind, a bluesy Harold Arlen tune. Cameron gets the benefit of the Quartet plus strings for Ray Henderson and Lew Brown's Let's Call It a Day, as does Krall, who steps away from her piano bench for a dramatic reading of Gordon Jenkins' Goodbye.
Some of the highlight tracks are the Quartet's instrumental performances, most notably Hank Jones' Angel Face.
Another sophisticated lady who sings jazz and can be heard live in Hong Kong is Canada's Liza Melfi, worth checking out at the Lobster Bar at the Island Shangri-La until January 15. Over the holiday season the Lobster Bar has also revived the 'jazz brunch' tradition with a trio led by bass player Paul Candelaria which plays there on Sunday until January 2.
News has just come in of the death of James Moody, a jazz great who appeared a number of times in Hong Kong.
Three career highlight collaborative CDs from Charlie Haden. Liberation Music Orchestra (1969, Impulse!): Haden, working with composer pianist Carla Bley, leads a 13-piece band through a passionate musical protest at the Vietnam war.
Beyond the Missouri Sky (1996, Verve): a best-selling sortie into pastoral Americana in the company of guitarist Pat Metheny, including compositions by writers ranging from Jimmy Webb and Roy Acuff to Henry Mancini and Ennio Morricone. One of the biggest hits in either of the leaders' careers.
The Art of the Song (1999, Polygram): Sophisticated Ladies has its antecedent in this mixed bag of tunes including originals, standards and traditional folk song Wayfaring Stranger, featuring vocalists Shirley Horn and Bill Henderson.