Picks and Pans Review: Just Friends
It does not bode well to begin the review of a vocalist by raving about the saxophonist who accompanies and adorns her, but when the vocalist is Helen Merrill and the shimmering saxophonist is Stan Getz, that's the way it goes.
Merrill has a throaty, husky voice that is effective in the lower registers but less so as it swoops up the scale. And with few exceptions, neither her song selections nor her delivery make up for the vocal lapses. "It Never Entered My Mind," for example, is given an idiosyncratic rendering—behind the beat, a bit off-note, pause-filled—with long drawn out phrases: "Once you waaaarned me/ That if you scorned me." Nor does Merrill do much to advance the cause for "Just Friends" (listen instead to Irene Kral) or "Yesterdays." The best numbers are a vibrant "Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing"), Joe Raposo's mock-mournful ballad "It's Not Easy Being Green," and most notably "Baby, Ain't I Good to You," which is a lovely case of material meshing with voice.
On a CD of only nine songs, it seems self-indulgent for Merrill to include her own composition "Music Maker," a paean to her sidemen. But Getz, pianist Torrie Zito (co-composer of "Music Maker") and bass player Jean-François Jenny-Clark must get much of the credit for giving this collection what spark it has. (Emarcy)