CD Reviews 10 Feb 2006

Jan Wheaton CD Scan0001JAN WHEATON AND MATAN RUBENSTEIN – Expressions of Love

(2005   JWVocalz)

Written by Judy Brady

Jan Wheaton assembled a sweeping set of great songs representing her love for jazz and the impulse driving her interpretation of them. The fifteen tracks performed on her new recording, Expressions of Love, form a much needed history lesson on the “classics” from the jazz-singer/jazz-duo catalog. Of course, “Stormy Weather” appears, and of course, “Almost Like Being in Love,” but Wheaton knows a good song can be personalized no matter what the genre, so we see “Crazy,” “Always on My Mind” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” as well. Expressions of Love explores ballads, jazz-swing, boogie-woogie and lounge-country on an energizing CD with lots of refreshing hits and few misses.

Wheaton’s musical counterpart, pianist Matan Rubinstein, knows the terrain. In a setting as intimate and revealing as a piano duo, the inevitable blend, the emergence of style and the presentation of mood hinge on his skill as performer and interpreter. Particular songs stand out because of these interactions. “That’s All,” made most famous by Nat King Cole, is wonderfully simple, quiet and tender. On “Stormy Weather,” Rubinstein plays the most tastefully, with just a bit of weary sass (just as the song orders).

Wheaton as well seems to really relax and leans on her deep, marvelous low vocal register, for good reason. It’s hard to get sick of this song, although everyone records and performs it. Wheaton and Rubinstein demonstrate that a good song may be able hold its own, but its true power comes from drawing out the greatness of the performers. It’s a good partnership all around.

Wheaton and Rubinstein could have made a purely jazz or lounge-sounding recording, and we would have been happy enough (listen to “I Thought About You” and “Dearly Beloved”). But again, this CD feels like Wheaton’s personal “expression of love” to songs, singing, artistry, expression, and real life and its wooly history. Enter Wille Nelson! “Crazy!” We love this song, yes? How often does one get to begin a tale with “I’m crazy”?! Anyway, Rubinstein gently swings the rhythm, nudging the blues into the room, where Wheaton invites them to have a seat and listen for a bit. It’s wonderful. Rubinstein’s solo seems a bit overdone (he can be a very elaborate and busy player at times), but they end the song strongly, declaring on piano and with voice “I’m crazy for lovin’ you.” Goodstuff. Both Nelson and Elvis hit big with “Always On My Mind,” and it remains a wonderful American standard, a straightforward song of pain and regret. The duo adds a slight lounge or jazz twist to vocal lines and accompaniment and makes it fresh and charming. On “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Wheaton reinforces Bonnie Raitt’s sadness and solitude. Expressions of Love contains numerous chances to relive and refresh our own relationships with these songs thanks to the efforts of Wheaton and Rubinstein.

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