Personnel: Jacqui Naylor (vocals); Bob Johnson (saxophone); Matt Brubeck, Marika Hughes (cello); Art Khu, Michael Blustein (piano); Steve Erquiaga, Brian Pardo, Craig Green (guitar); Jon Evans, Todd Sickafoose (bass); Jason Lewis, Jan Jackson (drums); Emiliano Benevides (percussion); John Scott, Pat Shanks, Tina Zenon (background vocals).
Recorded at San Pablo Recorders, Berkeley, California.
There's a joke about jazz vocalists that goes like this: how many jazz singers does it take to sing "My Funny Valentine"? All of them. That joke is making fun of the countless jazz singers who insist on recording nothing but Tin Pan Alley warhorses that -- as great as they are -- have been recorded much too often over the years. But not all jazz singers have a warhorses-only policy, and risk-takers like Claire Martin, Cassandra Wilson, and the Philadelphia-based Lou Lanza are doing vocal jazz a huge favor by having adventurous, far-reaching repertoires that aren't limited to Tin Pan Alley. Jacqui Naylor is another risk-taking jazz vocalist with an interesting repertoire, but there's a catch: she's also a folk-rocker -- and her folk-rock side has the upper hand on Shelter. Naylor has been dividing her time between a folk-rock/adult alternative aesthetic and vocal jazz; she's compelling in both areas, but whether Naylor favors one or the other all depends on what a particular song calls for. Interestingly, the most jazz-oriented thing on Shelter is an interpretation of the Rolling Stones' "Miss You"; Naylor has no problem finding the tune's jazz potential, and her jazz side also prevails on Joan Armatrading's "Love and Affection" and the Billie Holiday-ish "All for You" (which Naylor co-wrote with pianist Art Khu). But most of the time, Naylor's folk-rock side wins out on Shelter. Most of the 11 songs she co-wrote with Khu for this album are more folk-rock than jazz, and folk-rock serves Naylor well on introspective tracks such as "Before I'm Gone" and "Free My Love." Some jazz snobs no doubt wish that Naylor would perform straight-ahead jazz exclusively, but she would be selling herself short if she did that -- and thankfully, Naylor doesn't sell herself short on the memorable Shelter. ~ Alex Henderson