Carol Fredette is one of New York’s most underexposed and blissfully talented jazz singers. Her appearances are rare, but to celebrate her marvelous, swinging new CD, Everything in Time, music lovers with wisdom and good taste have been hanging out at the Iridium Jazz Club, home of the late guitarist Les Paul’s weekly trio sessions, to hang on every phrase. They are never disappointed. Ms. Fredette has been around for a while, recording since 1984, and playing most of the famous jazz clubs, and the experience pays off. Every time I see her, I hear something new and worthy of hearing again.
At one of last week’s late sets, I was enchanted to hear the rarely sung verse to Irving Berlin’s classic ballad “They Say It’s Wonderful” from Annie Get Your Gun. Once her celebrated pianist, Allen Farnham, hit the refrain, the song became playful, her time patterns leaping like a dancing dolphin through waves of joy. With an ace rhythm section comprised of dynamic drummer Adam Nussbaum and the throbbing bass of much-in-demand David Finck, her trio cannot be topped. It helps that the sound at the Iridium makes it one of the most listener-friendly rooms in town. The separation is so bad in most of the bigger rooms that it comes as an almost rapturous shock to hear every breath, inflection and sigh. Perfectly balanced and miked, with just the right amount of reverb, it is like being inside a recording studio during a playback.
Under those conditions, the work of Kern, Porter, Fields and Arlen gives new meaning to the Great American Song Book. And when Ms. Fredette is holding court, you can also expect a generous portion of younger geniuses like Dave Frishberg, Bob Dorough and Ivan Lins. The voice is clear, strong and intensely musical. Just two of many highlights: A blues-tinged “You’re My Thrill,” the color of indigo, and an exemplary “Last Night When We Were Young,” so exquisitely phrased that she infused E. Y. Harburg’s lyrics with new meaning. On ballads and finger-snapping up tunes, she shows a sense of fearless vocal exploration, bending notes and taking risks without ever losing control of her devotion to the story lines. Her dedication to the emotional subtext of her songs turns even the most familiar classics into newly minted gems. She can be flirtatious as Annie Ross, as passionate as Sarah Vaughan, and the stream-of-consciousness in her narrative approach to lyrics is almost Faulknerian. Startling yet accessible, Carol Fredette is one of the coolest jazz vocalists around, and her many attributes deserve a much wider exposure than she’s had so far. Most of the high points of her show are on her new CD. Buy it and learn something.