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Katharine Whalen's Jazz Squad

Katharine Whalen's Jazz Squad

Mammoth

This album comes with its own imaginary smoky jazz club, complete with knowledgeable musicians locked in with each other and playing away like it's the only thing that matters. The majority of the tunes only accompany the vocals with a rhythm section and electric guitar, but what's done with those instruments is enough to keep any listener enthralled. It's a little bit of blues, a bit of Django Reinhardt's Hot Club of France sound, early jazz, and then the occasional brass sections fondly make their appearances.

   And there, in the center of this chimerical stage is Katharine Whalen, wearing one of those dresses that one couldn't possibly hope to find in stores, hair parted to the side, currently involved in some kind of spiritual connection with the microphone. If anyone has ever taken a listen to the Squirrel Nut Zippers, then they're already fully aware that this woman probably has the most beautiful voice in the business. But, in case you missed it, Whalen's voice is a perfectly painted picture, as you can almost see her adding touches and brushes along the way. She's got the soul of Ella Fitzgerald, with a deeper pitch and that subtle pseudo-squeak thrown in for good measure.

   The range of songs isn't terribly spectral, but instead stay somewhere along that early '30s small group jazz, occasionally popping out to the 60's hard bop. Squirrel Nut Zipper Ken Matthus includes a song he wrote, "Badisma," which has that amazingly familiar feel, falling somewhere between compositions of Gerry Mulligan and Horace Silver, although certainly not touching either of them. Covers such as Hirsch's "Deed I Do" and Fain's "That Old Feeling" are beautifully pulled off as well.

   Katharine Whalen's Jazz Squad is no Squirrel Nut Zippers, but you can rest assured that the two are interchangeably enjoyed. Whereas the Zippers go for energy, Whalen goes for beauty. There's some diversity floating around in here, and the jazz enthusiasts will easily enjoy picking through the parade of influences that shine through. This record is one of those that you have no choice but to sit back and enjoy, for the combination of pleasant musicianship and wonderfully crafted vocals make this record a charm. And if you're looking for flashbacks to those smoky jazz clubs, you're really in luck.

Mammoth Records, The Broad Street Building, 101 B St., Carrboro, NC 27510; www.mammoth.com

--Jason Feifer