Catherine Russell • Harlem on my Mind

Catherine Russell • Harlem on my MindIt is always a bit bewildering from the math standpoint. Pianist-bandleader Luis Russell recorded in 1926 while his daughter Catherine Russell first emerged as an important jazz singer almost eight decades later. How many performers today who are in their prime had a parent who made records in the mid-1920s, 90 years ago?

It somehow works out. Luis Russell, who recorded with King Oliver and led a top Harlem orchestra during 1929-35 before it became the backup band for Louis Armstrong, was 54 when Catherine was born. Her mother Carline Ray, who played guitar and sang with the International Sweethearts Of Rhythm in the 1940s, was 20 years younger than Luis.

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Catherine Russell, who could conceivably have been singing in the jazz world by the mid-1970s, instead worked as a background vocalist with many top pop and rock acts including David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, and Paul Simon. It was not until 2006 that she seemingly came out of nowhere to record her first jazz CD, Cat. Harlem On My Mind is her sixth album.

On many of the selections, Catherine Russell sounds very much like a late 1930s Chicago swing and blues singer. She is powerful on the title cut, is passionate yet subtle on such ballads as “The Very Thought Of You” and “Don’t Take Your Love From Me,” gets lowdown on the bluesier material, and sounds very much at home on the swing standards.

With the exception of the country-oriented “Talk To Me, Talk To Me” which is a change-of-pace, one can certainly imagine this music and Ms. Russell being heard in a nightclub circa 1939.

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Her backup band, which includes pianist Mark Shane, guitarist-banjoist Matt Munisteri, the big-toned tenor-saxophonist Andy Farber, trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and trombonist John Allred. is perfect for her. And one of the joys of hearing Catherine Russell is that she does not sound like anyone else, from the 1930s or today.
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Harlem On My Mind (Jazz Village JV 579004, 12 selections, TT = 50:02) 

Scott Yanow

Since 1975 Scott Yanow has been a regular reviewer of albums in many jazz styles. He has written for many jazz and arts magazines, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, Down Beat, Cadence, CODA, and the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, and was the jazz editor for Record Review. He has written an in-depth biography on Dizzy Gillespie for AllMusic.com. He has authored 11 books on jazz, over 900 liner notes for CDs and over 20,000 reviews of jazz recordings.

Yanow was a contributor to and co-editor of the third edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz. He continues to write for Downbeat, Jazziz, the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, the Jazz Rag, the New York City Jazz Record and other publications.

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