JAZZ SPOTLIGHT : In Wanna-be City, Two Singers Shine


"Very Early"

Jersey Boy Music

* * 1/2


"Stories to Tell"

Chase Music Group

* * 1/2

Los Angeles is blessed with its share of competent vocalists, but the trick is to find them among the overabundant supply of pretender and wanna-be singers who populate the area. These albums feature two of the city's most serious-minded practitioners of the art.

New Orleans-born Sandra Booker makes a promising debut on "Very Early," displaying a direct, well-enunciated style that comes across in tones that are almost crystalline in their purity. She covers a wide variety of material and moods, and is equally at home with slow and up-tempo numbers. She skips easily through scat passages on Gigi Gryce's bop-paced "Minority," brings warmth and intimacy to Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now" and turns Bill Evans' "Very Early" into a touching, considered declaration of love.

Much of the attraction of Booker's release is the framing pianist-arranger Frank Collett creates for her voice. Collett does more than provide fine accompaniment. He has created the foundations that give such well-worn tunes as "A Night in Tunisia" and "How High the Moon" new character and charm.

Julie Kelly's "Stories to Tell" benefits from the same kind of quality instrumental support. With pianist Bill Cunliffe's arrangements, Kelly gets the kind of structure that allows her to move in unexpected ways.

Kelly's voice is less direct and more shaded than Booker's, but no less attractive. She comes across best on rhythmically involved numbers where her slightly offbeat phrasing imparts a sense of expectation into the flow. Short pauses in her delivery during the bossa-paced "Long Ago and Faraway" give the tune a dance-like quality, while the way she clings to each tone on "Inside a Silent Tear" adds extra poignancy. "Royal Garden Blues" bounces along with trumpeter Clay Jenkins and saxophonist Bob Sheppard matching Kelly's carefree attack.

Still, both of these releases could stand a little more personality from their leaders. Kelly could take a cue from Booker's distinct pronunciation. Booker could use some of Kelly's rhythmic savvy. And, while both have gone out of their way to keep their programs varied, each includes at least one tune that drags down the others ("The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" from Kelly, "My Favorite Things" from Booker). But these are otherwise strong efforts that are worth searching out.

"Very Early" is available from Jersey Boy Music, P.O. Box 6594, Beverly Hills 90212; $15. "Stories to Tell" is available from Chase Music Group, P.O. Box 11178, Glendale 91226; $15. Both can be found in selected record shops.

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