A Morning In Paris
ATHIMA BEA BENJAMIN
Thursday, February 21, 2008
This first recording of Abdullah Ibrahim’s (Dollar Brand) singer wife was completed in 1963, but the tapes were lost until 1997 when they surfaced in the hands of the session’s recording engineer. Benjamin was discovered by Duke Ellington, who with Ibrahim and Billy Strayhorn play piano on this melancholy-yet-sweet set. There is nothing commercial about the music, which is probably why it wasn’t released. All 12 selections are down-tempo with exceptionally sparse rhythm-section accompaniment, but the strength of Benjamin’s delivery proves that great singers don’t need instrumental supplement.
When Benjamin sings “I Got It Bad” you feel her pain as if it were your heart, and on “Solitude” her clear-toned vocal quality makes the loneliness even more palpable. Her delivery is as intimate as Alberta Hunter’s, as styled as the saxophone of Ben Webster and as personal as Stan Getz’s final recordings.
Duke’s magnificently elegant touch is everywhere, from his piano playing to the arrangements and from overall concept to the beautiful studio sound. Duke had to be heartbroken this recording wasn’t released during his lifetime.