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Soul Express Album of the Month - February 2006

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The Art of Intimacy

US Apria 2005
1) Dreams 2) Without Within 3) Blind 4) Better with Time 5) Sometimes I Wonder Why 6) Love Don't Pay the Bills 7) So Different Now 8) Eleven Seventeen 9) Wayfaring Stranger 10) Why Do People Fall in Love
Produced by Tony Viscardo & Veronica Martell

Veronica Martell started her recording career as a jazz singer, citing such names as Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, Sarah Vaughan and Nancy Wilson as her influences, but she also enjoys listening to soul artists like Anita Baker and Patti LaBelle. Veronica was a regular performer on the New York nightclub scene, and released her first album Big City Swing in 1999. Three years later she got her second album Lucky out, and it contained a string of jazz standards but also a wonderful Anita Baker-ish ballad titled Romancing the Blues, which earned her lots or airplay among jazz radio stations.

Maybe this particular track encouraged Veronica to try a more "commercial" style, and her new set The Art of Intimacy is a mixture of soul, pop and jazz. However, the instrumental setting on the album is so professional and stylish that I have nothing to complain even though a couple of tracks are quite pop-inclined. Acclaimed smooth jazz artist Pete Belasco is responsible for a couple of compositions, and there are no machines used in the backings - instead Buddy Williams plays the drums, and other instruments include piano, guitar, percussion, trumpet, saxophone and also strings especially on the MOR-ish closing cut Why Do People Fall in Love, probably the least interesting track on the whole album.

A prime example of the overall atmosphere on the album is the opening track Dreams, which is a trumpet-laced version of an old pop classic by Fleetwood Mac. I actually liked the original version, too, and Veronica's reading over the slightly jazz-tinged musical setting is extremely elegant. It is no surprise Amazon lists Marilyn Scott, Eliane Elias, Lalah Hathaway, Carol Duboc and Brian Culbertson as artists whose music has been bought by the customers who have bought this album.

However, the real jewel on the album is a track titled Blind, which has a luxurious "Quality Time" setting with a delicious piano, bass and drums backing, coloured by Bob Sheppard's soprano saxophone, and the actual song is a beautiful smooth-jazz song originally performed by Ultrablue, a band containing some of East Coast's leading contemporary jazz artists like Pete Belasco, Kevin Mahogany, Rachel Z and David Mann. I haven't heard the original version but Veronica's reading of the song is a timeless masterpiece, and makes one understand why some of her admirers already list this album as destined to their desert island Top 10.

Other excellent cuts on the album include the atmospheric percussive ballad So Different Now, co-written by Veronica herself, and the Pete Belasco-written Love Don't Pay the Bills, which sounds like a jazz classic, but is a new song with another Ultrablue member David Mann on saxophone. Belasco's other composition Without, Within is a more pop-oriented, gentle ballad tune flavoured by Tony Vicardo's guitar playing, while Veronica's own contribution Better with Time has a Latin-tinge with Trio da Paz playing the instruments (percussion, guitar and bass).

Sometimes I Wonder Why takes Veronica back to a jazzy ballad setting, being the same song Anita Baker sang on her Rhythm of Love album in 1994. I actually prefer the instrumental backing of Veronica's version, featuring Bob Sheppard on tenor saxophone, while Anita's version veers more towards MOR-inclined jazz. Today, of course, Anita would sound much more mature and relaxed while interpreting this kind of jazz ballad. Eleven Seventeen is a jazzy soul ballad written together by Veronica and Pete Belasco, and highlighted by David Mann's saxophone, and Wayfaring Stranger is a Latin-influenced reading of a folk spiritual, with Trio La Paz again playing the instruments.

As a whole, not an album with instant appeal, but if you like to have some relaxed, adult music with influences from soul, pop, jazz and Latin, this album proves to be a real grower. Visit Veronica's fine Website at
Ismo Tenkanen
Soul Express

Soul Express Albums of the Month in 2005
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