Back when this idea was more important than it is now, some people claimed they could tell the difference between the "jazz," and the "cabaret" singer. The cabaret singer sang the "verse" of the song, along with the chorus, and the jazz singer -- the "hipper" singer, they said, just sang the chorus. Jazz was stripped down song, the song as spark for improvisation. Cabaret was more elaborate, more interested in the song's literal meaning. So said people who were impatient with Mabel Mercer, on the one hand, or annoyed with Betty Roche, on the other. Such things mattered once. But then, chrome on cans mattered once, too.
However, today's search for those enduring art forms that will give us pure, purposeless pleasure and yet (perhaps paradoxically) remind us of the enduring human condition means we've got more interesting things to think about, like the continuing importance of the American-style art song.
With this disk, listeners have a unique opportunity in this regard. The American-style song is a great art form that takes a great artist to bring it to life. Shahida Nurullah is just such an artist. She draws on the stage, movie, cabaret and jazz lineage of this music, and knows how to go deep into the soul of these songs for effects you've forgotten where there. She knows the exact connection between these songs and your heart. "There is nothing as sensual as singing," the singer Barbara Lea once told the writer Whitney Balliet. Nurullah practices an art that relies on sensuality, subtlety and grace for its power.
This is a hard thing to explain. The song may seem familiar, but you've never heard a version of "Autumn in New York" like this one. Larry Nozero's clarinet solo is an odd, if inspired choice, and a perfect foil for the singer's prose of relaxed, but wise and world-weary ennui. Or listen to the way Nurullah stretches her vowels to that they lag just behind the beat on "I Was Doing Alright," creating a warm, swinging tension. I knew Dexter Gordon's version of this song, with its pristine languor, but Nurullah transforms that languor (which is in the song's poetry) by adding the sound of joy to the lyric's final phrase, without, for one second, getting ahead of her swing. Or consider how she brings time itself to a near standstill on a very difficult song, "Send in the Clowns."
It's wonderful to hear Nozero bring his edgy saxophone work and sensitive flute playing to this music. Pianist Tad Weed sounds like he's been accompanying singers since birth. And listen (carefully) to how Donald Mayberry swings without letting you notice! The percussion work by Kenneth Rice and Mahindi Masai, and the work of guitarist Robert Tye, is dense, yet effective and controlled, especially on the two Brazillian songs.
For Nurullah and her band, the American art song is not a vehicle. It is an expression. And each of these miniature works of art, each song, is rendered with depth, beauty, and taste.
Chuck Workman, Nuvo.net
Among the CD releases I receive each week to review, especially from vocalists, every now and then a voice just seems to leap out of the speakers and grab me right away. Such was the case on The Ruby and the Pearl with a young woman from Detroit with the exotic name of Shahida Nurullah.
Although she has faced a lifetime of personal tragedies, Nurullah has not let it affect her passion for beauty in her outlook or her craft and performance. She has a rare vocal gift. Her voice is pristine and she sings the American songbook standards with a touch of the Brazilian composers Jobim, Horta and Brant. In some ways she reminds me of when I first heard Carmen McRae. Nurullah has the same way of taking lyrics and making you live them with her as she immerses herself in the words and breathes new life into these classics.
From the first track, “Autumn in New York,” a tune I have heard countless times by others, she had me. What makes her performance even more stunning are the sensitive arrangements with Tad Weed’s sextet of excellent Detroit musicians. Larry Nozero’s clarinet, flute and alto sax are the perfect foil for Nurullah’s serene song excursions. Definitely a magnificent storyteller on ballads, this lady can swing. She gets her point across like driving spikes with a rubber mallet instead of a sledgehammer. Dig her on “Star Eyes” and “I Was Doing Alright.”
With her crystal purity of tone and a marvelously controlled wide vibrato, Nurullah is an artist that all jazz fans should hear.
Rating: 5 Stars
Shahida Nurullah has come back from her own near death experience to breath new life into the American songbook on The Ruby and the Pearl.
January 11, 2006
IT HASN’T TAKEN long for the buzz to spread among jazz radio programmers about this stellar release from Detroit area singer Shahida Nurullah. While the album is mostly comprised of familiar standards and a couple of Brazilian tunes, the arrangements and her approach are anything but the same old same old; she demonstrates a deep appreciation for the lyric and communicates it with sincerity through her rich and clear alto. Recent Michigan emigré, pianist Tad Weed, provides sensitive and thoughtful accompaniment, but the reeds of Larry Nozero – especially on clarinet – engage Nurullah in conversation, creating sublime vocal and instrumental duets. Nurullah has delivered a recording that will hold its own against any of the top jazz vocalists of the present day.
January 30, 2006
The Ruby and the Pearl is a standards record from Detroiter Shahida Nurullah who proves equally versed in both Jazz and latin music. Nurullah's backstory, however, is just as interesting as the results here. After gigging around her native Detroit for a number of years, including a stint working with Geri Allen, in 1989, Nurullah was involved in a hit and run accident that resulted in a debilitating brain injury that will affect her for the remainder of her life. With her struggle to sing and perform again, this record is a reflection of her success at "beating the odds" and a testament to her positive attitude. To top it off, it's damn good.
Musically speaking, from its first notes, it is obvious that Nurullah has chosen her collaborators well and as the results demonstrate, the piano magic of Tad Weed and reedwork of Larry Nozero are significant boosters. Such moments commence on the soft-pedals of the waltz of "Autumn in New York" and follow with the lovely groove of "Lullaby Of The Leaves," the floating "The Ruby And The Pearl," and the smoke of "You're My Thrill." Nurullah also has some fun on the zippy "I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket" with Nozero's clarinet prodding her and the saucy "I Was Doing Alright" highlighted by Nozero's bright alto work. The Latin tracks are fantastic, particularly Toninho Horta's fluffy "Aqui, Oh," as well as Jobim's enchanting "This Happy Madness/Estrada Branca" and "A Felicidade." Nurullah's is a remarkable comeback story and here's hoping that there is more from her in the future.
Shahida Nurullah starts off with a truly rich set of pipes; honey-laden, easeful phrasing, proper understatement of gifts, spherical, celestial voice. She's a true vocal gem befitting the album title. I have no idea as to the "correctness" of her Portuguese diction but she's very convincing on Toninho Horta's "Aqui, Oh" and Jobim's classic "A Felicidade," where she floats with confidence. The Detroiter is accompanied by piano, bass, drums, acoustic guitar, percussion and Motor City vet Larry Nozero on reeds & flutes.
Info factor: Tracks are listed on disk, rear jewel case and in the booklet w/composer credits. Good notes by outside writer and the artist; email, web contacts and telephone number on the booklet.
Willard Jenkins' Independent Ear
Insights, Reviews & Interviews
Kansas Public Radio e-Newsletter
Distinctive New Voices in Jazz
Shahida Nurullah is not, strictly speaking, a newcomer on the jazz vocal scene, as she’s been a mainstay on the Detroit jazz scene for some two decades. But with her new CD, The Ruby and the Pearl, Nurullah is finally gaining well deserved recognition outside of the Motor City. With a lush voice, equally at ease on a languid ballad or an uptempo swinger, her style hearkens back to the classic styles of the likes of Sarah Vaughn and Carmen McRae. That voice grabs you right at the start of the disc, with her gorgeous take on the little heard verse on “Autumn in New York,” which is also graced by the lovely clarinet work of Larry Nozero, who also is heard on flute and alto saxophone. She brings a magisterial approach to two Jobim numbers, and her performance on the little heard title track is nothing less than compelling.
Kansas Public Radio e-Newsletter
Although she is little known outside of Detroit, Shahida Nurullah is a great jazz singer with a very strong and flexible voice. She has toured with Geri Allen, but the release of The Ruby and the Pearl is her biggest musical accomplishment to date. A subtle improviser who holds a lot back but can cut loose whenever she likes, Nurullah creates fresh versions of a variety of standards and also performs a few obscurities. Whether it is "Autumn in New York," "Star Eyes," a happy "I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket," or "The Ruby and the Pearl," she is heard throughout this memorable set in top form. Her fine supporting cast includes Larry Nozero, who contributes excellent solos on alto and clarinet. A highly recommended effort, The Ruby and the Pearl shows that Shahida Nurullah deserves to be famous in the jazz world.
Scott Yanow, April 2006
Check out her new CD "The Ruby and The Pearl"! How nice to hear a singer with a genuine voice ... pitch, vocal quality, projection, enunciation, and sense of the lyrics and story of a song - all great and so's her band. I hear so many singers who don't come near this quality. Shahida Nurullah is world-class, I'm definitely adding this one.
Jazz After Hours, PRI
I just gave "You're My Thrill" a spin on my NPR jazz programme, Classic Jazz and Swing (Capital Public Radio out of Sacramento, CA.) Had many calls about the tune and the artist. She handles standards in a way that remains true to the music as written, yet refreshingly her own. It's a joy in radio to find a voice the does not sound like someone else. Her phrasing is subtle, just lovely. Other delights on this recording include her renditions of Bernice Petkere's "Lullaby of the Leaves", and that Fred Astaire RKO Radio picture song hit "I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket" from the never ending Irving Berlin song book. Delightful.
June 28, 2006
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