For listeners enamored of classic jazz collaborations between pianists and vocalists—Cassandra Wilson/Jacky Terrasson’s Rendezvous and Janis Siegel/Fred Hersch’s Shortstories come to mind—here’s a worthy addition to the canon, courtesy of the UK singer Ian Shaw and the American virtuoso Cedar Walton. In all fairness, though Shaw and Walton are the frontmen, they aren’t the only musicians on this 1998 effort: the sparse, laid-back arrangements are occasionally sweetened by David William’s bass and the agile saxophonist Iain Ballamy.
Mr. Walton is a sensitive accompanist (the pairing pays off especially in the dynamic opener and the honky-tonkish Standing in the Dark) but this is Mr. Shaw’s show. Listening to the scat figures in the title cut, it’s tempting to compare him to Mel Torme (both have that same fuzzy tenor sound) but Shaw is very much his own vocalist—one only has to absorb the stream-of-conscious syncopations of Joni Mitchell’s Furry Sings the Blues or the soul-shouted precision of Grandma’s Hands to hear uncommon versatility wrapped in musical ideas at once primal and modern.
The CD’s two standouts are songs so familiar they’d risk becoming glaring folly in lesser hands. But Shaw makes Wouldn’t It Be Loverly (from the musical My Fair Lady) a wistful, almost Dickensian plea of a man who’s come to recognize, and covet the simpler solaces of life. Equally heartbreaking is his take on Burt Bachrach’s Alfie, a song from which Shaw wrings every yearning drop of self-questioning. These renditions reveal a vocalist blessed with elegant restraint, and an actor unafraid to lay his emotions bare. In a New York Minute is everything you’d hope for in a jazz album, but Mr. Shaw’s gifts transcend genre labels. Call him what you want, but one thing’s clear—this is a singer for all seasons.