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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Aretha Franklin: Yeah!!! In Person


1) This Could Be The Start Of Something; 2) Once In A Lifetime; 3) Misty; 4) More; 5) There Is No Greater Love; 6) Muddy Water; 7) If I Had A Hammer; 8) Impossible; 9) Today I Love Ev'rybody; 10) Without The One You Love; 11) Trouble In Mind; 12) Love For Sale.

Well worth locating. One thing you cannot say about Columbia Records is that they never tried finding the right groove for Aretha — or that Aretha herself did not latch onto each of their initi­atives with respectful enthusiasm. Thus, after the attempt to market her as a teen idol lady did not work (or, rather, did not succeed in making her into the next Mary Wells), out comes another di­rection: straightforward small-combo jazz! If not Dinah Washington, and not Mary Wells, then why not Ella Fitzgerald? Something, at some time, is bound to work after all.

The album is claimed to be «live», which is both true and false. True, in that the performances were indeed recorded live — in the studio — with no overdubs and very few different takes, the way it befits a tight jazz band. False, in that there was no live audience present, but, following the perverted spirit of the times, it was felt that a «live ambience» was necessary, so the engineers added scattered bunches of applause and audience noises, as if this were all happening in a posh restaurant: you can hear the clinking of the silverware and lots of conversation going on — obvi­ously, no one has any real business in listening to Aretha belt her soul out, except for a little po­lite clapping at the end of the song.

Which immediately translates to «fake», because I have serious doubts that most people would go on chatting about their own affairs the minute Aretha opened her mouth on any of these tunes. As I already said, she is no jazz singer, or, at least, no great jazz singer; she knows little about vocal modulation, nor does she have any desire to scat or vocalize. She is a powerhouse gospel machine that found itself in the situation of having to work in a jazz framework. But that's exactly what makes the experience particularly interesting. Jazz music + gospel engine almost equal rock'n'roll; if only the backing band, who are tight but play in the standard jazz idiom, understood the special qualities of Aretha and played accordingly, Yeah!!! would have justified its title and, who knows, could even become a landmark jazz record. As it is, they find it hard to catch up, but it is still ex­citing just to see them try.

The track list mostly consists of standards, a few ('Without The One You Love') re-recorded from former sessions, with maybe one or two surprises, such as the jazz arrangement of 'If I Had A Hammer'. Overall, it is not always possible, nor is it absolutely necessary, to discern breaks be­tween songs, except when a fast shuffle is replaced by a slow ballad; instead, just concentrate on the energy and conviction that flows from young Aretha, and think about how less kick-ass all of it might have sounded in the hands of other singers. This is a record that begs you to headbang to it, and closes its eyes on all the subtle nuances of the genre. Well, why not? Thumbs up.

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