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​American Song

The New York Times, 02.23.04
Andy Bey

Andy Bey is an artful singer and a many-sided one, with three distinct voices in his four-octave range. Generally he doesn't rush — like Shirley Horn, he is comfortable with the slowest tempos in jazz — and the simmering power of his music sometimes threatens to become too imposing, too profound.

But the dark, smoky colors of his voice, and its unfailing accuracy of pitch generally solves the problem. His carefully constructed new record, "American Song" (Savoy Jazz), puts that voice in a glass case and on a pillow.

Outside of "Ballads, Blues and Bey," a remarkable album of only voice and piano from 1996, this is Mr. Bey's best recording in a late-blooming career; it is very sure of itself.

The album's producer, Herb Jordan, has paid attention to basic issues of instrumentation; with Paul Meyers's acoustic guitar and Geri Allen's creeping, cloudlike horn arrangements, there is a drive to make old songs sound new. "Midnight Sun" and "Caravan" use glacial, modified Latin rhythms; "Paper Moon" becomes a cosmic slow groove; "Prelude to a Kiss" begins nearly as chamber music for voice and reed instruments with bittersweet harmonies before ceding to swing rhythm and an urbane Frank Wess tenor saxophone solo.

As a reflection of its star, the album is carefully paced, taking its time: not until the third track, "Speak Low," do you hear Mr. Bey's tenor voice punch through the velvet.

This crisp tenor is not so suffused with his bass-baritone's low-end frequencies, and its appearance is a startling little moment on a hypnotic album.