Jimmy Scott ‘I Go Back Home’ CD/2LP/Dig (Eden River) 4/5

Singer Jimmy Scott passed away in 2009 and possessed an idiosyncratic voice that some depicted as quite effeminate in tone, due to his suffering from Kallman’s Syndrome during puberty, but which still had an aching blues hinterland to attract and grip the listener’s attention. This recording is almost certainly the very last that Scott ever cut in a studio and has been wonderfully put together with, at the helm of the project’s genesis, German producer Ralf Kemper and the mixing talents of Phil Ramone. The result is a rich and lush production that embellishes Scott’s voice and creates a wonderful warmness of tone. A first-rate rhythm section comprises pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Michael Valerio and drummer Pete Erskine, though on individual songs, one or more musician opts out, or else is replaced. The instrumentalists are augmented by Brazilian guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, hammond organ player Joey DeFrancesco. harmonica player, Grégoire Maret, and tenor saxophonist James Moody. In the case of Castro-Neves and Moody both would subsequently die and thus the album is equally a tribute to their illustrious careers. Throughout the album the lush strings of the HBR Studio Symphony Orchestra help propel the music, the majority of which is taken from the Great American Songbook, and add a sophisticated classicism to the recording. Various guest singers contribute on individual songs and these include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Monica Mancini and Renee Olstead.

The opener, ‘Motherless child’, is just the kind of epic ballad that none other than Ray Charles might have recorded at his peak and Scott succeeds in imbuing his own interpretation with a similar degree of soulfulness, De Francesco laying down some meaty grooves on hammond organ. Just as compelling is a duet between Scott and Renee Olstead on, ‘Someone to watch over me’, while arguably best of all is a more contemporary cover, that of Stevie Wonder’s, ‘For once in my life’, which is significantly slowed down in this new version to a jazz ballad with Dee Dee Bridgewater entering half-way through and tenor saxophonist Bob MIntzer soloing in relaxed mode.

A number of duets surface as the album progresses, but one of the most endearing is that with Monica Mancini, daughter of composer Henry Mancini, on the gentle bossa take of, ‘I remember you’, with Castro-Neves infusing an authentic does of Brazilica and Cuban flugelhorn player Arturo Sandoval a touch of melancholy. A real favourite of this writer is, ‘Everybody is somebody’s fool’, on which tenorist James Moody solos beautifully and with the sensitive accompaniment of both strings and organ. Indeed on ‘Folks who live on the hill”, there is something of a cinematic quality to both the strings and woodwinds that operate, and here Joey DeFrancesco alternates on muted harmon trumpet. It is important to recognise that Scott was nearing the end at the time of these recordings and the quasi-spoken take on ‘Easy living’ is testimony to that, but once again the strings and hammond organ combination is a surprising winner. The intimacy of Scott’s voice is reinforced on the pared down voice, plus piano and string accompaniment on, ‘The nearness of you’.

While clearly the voice of Jimmy Scott has been weakened by illness and does not compare with his seminal 1960s albums, ‘Falling in love is wonderful’ (1962) and ‘The source’ (1969), the voice was always delicate in any case and that contributes to the emotional impact of the album in a way that Billie Holiday did for example on her end of career opus, ‘Lady in Satin’ album. The rapport between the trio throughout the recording is another major highlight. Of note is the forthcoming documentary on the process of the album’s creation and, more generally, on the life of Jimmy Scott due to be shown in the UK later in 2017.

Tim Stenhouse