"It's Too Hot For Words"
Dee Alexander: “It’s Too Hot for Words” (Delmark Records). Pair Chicagoan Alexander’s stylistically versatile vocals with glistening arrangements for the Metropolitan Jazz Octet, and you have new ways of appreciating Alexander’s art. All the more because she takes on music associated with Billie Holiday, but not the most obvious songs (with the exception of “Strange Fruit,” delivered here on a nearly operatic scale). Alexander’s voice produces fascinating colors and textures throughout.
The octet veers between intimate chamber group sounds and bold little-big-band statements. Throughout, Alexander exudes warmth, conviction, rhythmic certainty, precise diction and hard-earned effortlessness. Her tonality is pure, rich and comforting, especially in her low and middle ranges. “I want you to feel like you’re in your soft, fuzzy robe when you’re listening to me, like you just came out of the shower or out of the bath and are cozy,” she says. “I’m always trying for the honey in my voice.”
Dee Alexander is not one to throw a pity party. Here, as is her wont, she both honors her source material and reimagines it, aided by some brilliant arrangements as well as deft accompaniment (and first-rate solos) from the Metropolitan Jazz Octet. Although she doesn’t shy away from Holiday’s dark side, much of what she and the MJO offer is, in a word, fun, which isn’t always an adjective associated with Lady Day.
What we get is the best big-band era ambiance but with fewer instruments, played with aplomb and a great singer along for the ride, but in a twenty-first-century studio with high-quality professionals in charge. The reinvigorated Delmark label has done well, again, in providing us a timely representation of Chicago’s finest jazz musicians.