Carla Cook | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Carla Cook 

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Carla Cook

Jazz singer Carla Cook's 1999 debut, It's All About Love (MaxJazz), was a revelation: because she didn't record it till her mid-30s, she sounded at once fresh and fully mature. A Detroit native weaned on Motown and gospel, Cook has a hefty, bluesy timbre, with a honeyed brightness in the upper half of her range. She phrases as naturally as the sun sets, and on ballads and down-tempo standards her blend of sung melody and speech rhythms practically glows; when she scats, it's not a perfunctory trick but an organic, improvisatory extension of the written line. For many of today's jazz divas, including Nnenna Freelon and Dianne Reeves, Sarah Vaughan is the reigning model; even Cassandra Wilson takes after her, at one level of remove--she's borrowed from Betty Carter, whose style was an evolution of Vaughan's. But Cook doesn't emulate Vaughan, Carter, or anyone else I can name; she sounds a bit--but only a bit--like a more reserved Carmen McRae. Keeping a lid on her natural ebullience, she pulls together 50s hard bop and west-coast cool with touches of more recent styles, from 60s bossa nova to 70s soul; she's also written some awfully good contemporary funk tunes and love songs herself. Abetted by her record label, Cook has taken a big chance with her brand-new release, the delicious Dem Bones: she's added three trombones, the most cantankerous of horns, to her band. She stirs them in so expertly, you wonder why more singers don't try it--even as you pray they won't. For these gigs, though, she'll leave the 'bones at home; instead she'll be accompanied by a trio led by regular pianist Andy Milne. Tuesday, March 6, 8 PM, Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell, Arlington Heights; 847-577-2121. Wednesday, March 7, 8 PM, Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook Rds., Highland Park; 847-266-5100. Thursday, March 8, 7:30 PM, DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl.; 773-947-0600.

NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jimmy Katz.

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