It’s taken me a while to write up the review of Capathia Jenkins & Louis Rosen “PHENOMENAL WOMAN: The Maya Angelou Songs.” In a strange sense this music and angels, saved my life. After attending the release party at Birdland, I was struck and run over by a cab. If I had not been on a musical high from this concert, I do not know if I would have made it. They say music can save the soul, well music can also keep us on an energetic frequency where we can survive anything.
“PHENOMENAL WOMAN: The Maya Angelou Songs” (Di-tone Records), came to fruition in 2005 when Jenkins and Rosen were granted rights by Maya Angelou to perform the 11-song cycle. The rights were expanded in 2017 to include recording and publishing. At that time Rosen began arranging the tunes for a jazz sextet. The duo then went into the studio with their co-producer, Scott Lehrer. As well as the Maya Angelou Songs, their are four instrumental interludes penned by Rosen, called Songs Without Words. This is the fifth album collaboration for Jenkins and Rosen. The recording of Phenomenal Woman: The Maya Angelou Songs marks the completion of the recording of Louis’ Black Loom Trilogy, three song cycles composed for Jenkins on the poems of three major African-American writers, including Dream Suite: Songs in Jazz and Blues on Poems by Langston Hughes and One Ounce of Truth: The Nikki Giovanni Songs. The duo’s other two albums include South Side Stories and The Ache Of Possibility with four songs again on poetry by Ms. Giovanni.
The album opens with “Prelude: Song Without Words, No. 1 (A Day Next Week),” which begins with a haunting clarinet and piano duet leading into the first song, “Come Be My Baby.” Jenkins vocal range can embellish every note with just the right amount of warmth and tenderness. The use of the vibraphone added a delightful nuance. Rosen writes such naked emotion, that it is musical nirvana. Rosen’s music continually shifts from folk, into a melodic jazz, savoring a earthy pop sound. Though these border on art songs, they stay grounded in the birth of the blues.
In “But They Went Home” the longing of a women who longs for a man, soars with passion and sorrow at never choosing her own man.
“Preacher Don’t”, has a New Orlean’s bite to it, with some lush jazz instrumentation, while “I Think About Myself”, had a 60’s pop feel ,that had a lilting beat and some hip grooves.
“Some Blues I’ve Had” brought out the haunting feel of seeing a hanging on every tree. With Jenkin’s clear and crisp voice lingering on the melodic structure it was if we could feel this unnatural disease. “Turned to Blue,” had a Carlos Jobim feel.
I absolutely loved “I Hate to Lose Something”, where now it is the women, who doesn’t want to lose her man and won’t. The song went into “Poor Girl, Just Like Me”, a inner monologue women have when they take a man from another women, knowing she will lose him to the next.
“Out Here Alone” bring the blues to a head. With Angelou’s most iconic poem “For the Caged Bird Sings,” touching our souls. Jenkin’s crisp clear voice is at it’s best. This women could sing the phone book and make me thrill, but with these haunting and succulent melodies, this song cycle brings a freshly approach to these iconic lyrics.
The last song “Phenomenal Woman” is the pièce de résistance that I expect really clever cabaret artists to pick up and claim.
Backed by pianist Kimberly Grigsby; CJ Camerieri on trumpet and French horn; Hideaki Aomori on alto & tenor saxophones, flute and clarinet; Andy Blanco on vibraphone; Dave Phillips on acoustic and electric bass; and Gary Seligson on drums, this is a CD that will stir your being into paradise. I know it did mine and saved me from going there literally.