Album Review: The Clancye Milne Octet / Rodgers & Hart Gershwin Joni Mitchell

The album opens up with a bright, up beat arrangement of ‘Thou Swell.’ Clancye Milne‘s voice hits you straight off the bat as light and breezy but also honest and warm. Hers is a naturally musical voice aided and abetted by impeccable pitch and an ability to move through registers effortlessly. Her jazz sensibilities are strong and she phrases with the maturity of a jazz singer twice her age, with just a whisper of Blossom Dearie.

James Mustafa’s ensemble arranging is superb throughout this album, none more so than on this opening track where you hear all the nuances of great big band writing. There’s a lovely shout chorus written into the arrangement which pivots nicely into solos from Clancye and the ever expressive Julien Wilson. The opening two tracks are pure straight ahead jazz and Clancye gets even more adventurous with her melodizing on ‘They Can’t take that away from Me’ which I so loved. The third track moves into Joni Mitchell territory, where Clancye’s vocal facility shines on the stunning ‘California.’

‘Blue Moon’ has a light, dance-like feel and treatment from both vocalist and arranger. It’s kinda cheeky and wistful at the same time. The whole album by now has taken on a unique feel. ‘Blue’ is exceptionally beautiful in every way from the opening with just accordion, followed by the flutes and piano motifs and then the entrance of Clancye’s pure crystalline voice. Her range is really evident on this track. Another exceptional solo from Julien Wilson makes this one of my favorites. Voice and accordion, flutes and piano end this just where it started.

‘My Funny Valentine’ once again highlights the enormous range of Mustafa’s arranging skills. If anyone hasn’t yet realized what a talent he is, it’s made abundantly evident after one listen through of this very fine album. The second-to-last track harks back to the grand old era of the early ’30s and has a more traditional, fun element to it. With a ‘Case of You’, Clancye closes with the music that speaks to her heart and where her voice shines most sublimely.

Whether it’s expressing the frailty of emotions in a Joni Mitchell song or phrasing hiply and confidently through straight ahead material, hers is a unique gift. Filled with surprising twists and turns, her pristine pitch and range makes you want to press play, again and again. The imagery is all there. The vision realized. Consummate performances by all.