Washington Post review of Inside This Heart of Mine


Friday, May 21, 2010

"Inside This Heart of Mine"

Kindred spirits: Maria Muldaur, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Lizz Wright, Irma Thomas

Show: Appearing as part of the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center.

If anyone belongs in this weekend's Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, it's Catherine Russell. Her mother, Carline Ray, played bass for Williams, and her father, the legendary Luis Russell, was Louis Armstrong's longtime music director. But Catherine Russell is an atypical modern jazz singer; she's less interested in the swinging sophistication and Broadway polish of the American Songbook than in the sound of her parents' pre-World War II era, when bluesy moans, jive patter and hillbilly twang still had a place in jazz.

Only five of the 13 songs on Russell's third album, "Inside This Heart of Mine," were written in the 1920s and '30s. That's because Russell is not interested in reviving a bygone era but in applying that era's neglected tools to today's music. Rachelle Garniez's "Just Because You Can" was written only last year, but the banjo-and-fiddle intro and Russell's strutting-but-relaxed vocal create a sound that's perfect for the tune and also unlike 99 percent of contemporary jazz vocals.

The title track of the album refers to a 1938 Fats Waller hit, but the finger-snapping swing, nasal inflections and nicely understated Dixieland horns work just as well today, when the unlucky in love still carry cloudy hearts beneath a sunny sky.

-- Geoffrey Himes