Janet Lawson Quintet ‘Janet Lawson Quintet’ (BBE Music) 5/5

janet-lawson-quintetOne of the joys of being a fan of jazz in the 1980s was the emergence of new singers on the New York jazz scene and the vastly underrated Janet Lawson was one such chanteuse who recorded on scat king Eddie Jefferson’s ‘The Main Man’ album from 1977. Regular attendees of jazz dance sessions at Dingwalls will have regularly heard songs from this album and BBE have wisely re-issued it coupled with some excellent bonus cuts form a separate and slightly later session which served as a tribute to the music of Miles Davis. Challenging for the strongest number is ‘Sunday Afternoon’ which is simply a gorgeous mid-tempo song that features some superlative scatting from Lawson and delicate accompaniment including a lovely flute solo. This filled the dancefloors in the 1980s and deservedly so. However, ‘So High’ is equally strong with an instantly memorable bass line intro and this was a more uptempo vehicle and an ideal piece for jazz dancers to improvise upon. With latinesque polyrhythms and soaring soprano saxophone, a high tempo is maintained throughout. A third jazz dance number emerges in the slightly off-tempo (but deliberately so) of ‘Nothin’ like you’ where Lawson delivers arguably her strongest vocal performance of the entire album. For some welcome variety, a jaunty mid-tempo interpretation of Fats Waller’s ‘Jitterbug’ creates an altogether lighter mood and there is a gentle, yet emotive ballad rendition of Monk’s opus ‘Round Midnight’. The extra pieces are collectively devoted to the music performed by Miles Davis circa ‘Porgy and Bess’ through to the transitional ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ album. The pick of the quartet of songs is ‘Joshua’ from the latter album and here the piano solo intro leads into a deliciously extended scat excursion with soprano saxophone accompaniment. From ‘Porgy and Bess’, ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ is taken at a slightly faster temp than per usual. Subsequent to this album and its follow up from 1983, ‘Dreams can be’, Janet Lawson pursued a parallel career as a jazz educator at a college in New York, and has only sporadically returned to live performance. She is, then, an under-recorded and some of her unissued sessions would be a welcome addition for this writer, notably a tribute to Charles Mingus and live recordings at the Jazz Café. The album she participated on with David Lahm from 1982, ‘Real jazz for folks who feel jazz’, also deserves to be re-issued at some point.

Tim Stenhouse