Time travelers

By JON GARELICK  |  July 19, 2010

Neill, with her deep, bluesy voice, makes unusual choices. She slows the Sinatra-associated swinger “Fly Me to the Moon” way down, so that its normally upbeat lyrics take on an ironic, lamenting tone. “Heat Wave,” on the other hand, gets a faster swinging treatment than when she last tried out the Martha & the Vandellas hit, on 2005’s Entree Blue. And in the middle of the Peggy Lee hit “Fever,” she interpolates the Billie Holiday–associated standard “Comes Love” as a kind of bridge. With the result that you hear the words of each all the better (“Comes love, everything is undone”).

“I just couldn’t sing some of those lyrics that Peggy Lee sings,” Neill tells me, laughing, over the phone. But the arrangement — like all of them — came through her relationship with her band. She started the album (as she did her four previous releases) by collaborating with pianist Laszlo Gardony — who shines here, both in obbligato passages and in his lyrical, swinging soloing. Then in rehearsal with bassist Ron Mahdi and drummer Yoron Israel, the pieces changed and changed again. Which accounts for the fluctuating meter in “The Music Is the Magic,” a piece originally brought to her by Israel, who had played it with Abbey Lincoln. When she first met Israel, she was daunted by that bit on his résumé. “I can’t work with him — he’s recorded with Abbey Lincoln!” But Israel has been a source of astute recommendations. Adds Gardony, “Shelley sees this band as a creative group that continues creating on stage. We are not a back-up band with her.”

Neill’s own training hasn’t been shabby either: she’s studied with both Jay Clayton and Sheila Jordan. “Sheila told me, ‘I can’t teach you how to sing. You already know how to sing. All I can teach you is how to use your voice.’ ” Neil, Gardony, Mahdi, and Israel play the Regattabar on July 28.

AMERANOUCHE | Regattabar, Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett St, Cambridge | July 21 at 7:30 pm | $14 | 617.395.7757 or regattabarjazz.com | SHELLEY NEILL GROUP | Regattabar | July 28 at 7:30 pm | $17

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