"Can’t Help It" - Review by Scott Yanow
For her recording debut as a leader, Verena McBee is joined by pianist Billy Test, bassist Zwelakhe Duma-Bell LePere and drummer Brian Woodruff, mostly performing fresh and inventive versions of standards. She also introduces two of her originals (“Princess Lioness” and “Don’t Ask Me”), wrote the lyrics to her husband bassist Cecil McBee’s “Agua Dulce” and contributed all of the inventive arrangements.
Can’t Help It begins with her driving piece, “Princess Lioness,” that serves as a fine introduction to the singer. On “Taking A Chance On Love,” she takes the first chorus quite slow, putting plenty of feeling into the words before it becomes a medium-tempo swinger. “The Man I Love” is interpreted with a great deal of drama with its verse and chorus being taken out-of-tempo. This unusual version has the singer filling the words with longing and hopelessness. In contrast, “Love Me Or Leave Me,” which begins as a duet with drummer Woodruff, has some exciting scat-singing and concludes with Verena reinventing the melody. “Take The ‘A’ Train, which has a bit of solo space for each of her sidemen, also features some expressive scatting.
Verena McBee has always been inspired by Marlene Dietrich. Her rendition of Ms. Dietrich’s first hit, “Falling In Love Again,” is quite personal and finds her singing in both German and English. “Agua Dulce” is quite a tour-de-force with Verna showing off her very wide range and her background in classical music. Her wordless singing during the performance’s second half is quite memorable. She is also passionate on a medium-slow version of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” While the latter is a duet with pianist Test, she shares a happy “Ain’t Misbehavin’’ with bassist LePere. Concluding this memorable effort is a medley of the timeless “Nature Boy” with her topical and thoughtful “Don’t Ask Me (Immigration Song).”
Can’t Help It is quite a debut for Verena McBee, making one look forward to what is coming next.
Scott Yanow, Jazz Journalist / Historian / Author
( The Jazz Singers, The Great Jazz Guitarists, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76 )
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