"What's in Store? - Jessie Wills, Canary Label, 1999
“In Jessie Wills, we find straight forward simplicity of style and an openness of voice that is both sanguine and sweet. It is her “Thousand Eyes” that is the preeminent version of the three (I reviewed this time) with some astoundingly linear tuba playing by Jim Self. When Wills scats against his melodic burrowing, there is something metaphysical in the air. Frank Rosolino’s "Daniel" hits a lighter-than-ether waltz groove, with an inventively optimistic lyric by the singer herself. She proves to be quite adept at gestating lyrics in fact, as she proves with Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes,” Denny Zeitlin’s “Quiet Now" and Eric Susoeff’s “Nova Azul,” the latter of which is infused with grace and an airy sort of lyric levitation (magic/romance/the moon/the stars). The title track is by pianist Oh and herself with, once again, her lyric, but that’s just my educated guess, since the convention of listing songwriting credits with composer preceding lyricist (as in Rodgers & Hart, and Arlen & Mercer) is observed most often in the breach these days.* Nevertheless, it’s a mighty engaging tune, from any aspect. The disc’s major surprise and delight is the resurrection of a Kay Swift/Paul James gem from the 1929 (“The Little Show”) Broadway season, “Can This Be Love.” How she found it will be her secret. That she found it and put it on her disc is a small miracle for which we can all be thankful. “Romance” is ardently innocent, with pungent statements from Self and Oh. (Henceforth, I will have to refrain from my small joke about the possibility of the tuba replacing the harmonica as the instrument of choice in hell.) Self is so good; he is, you might say, a revelation in matters tubaceous. But it is Oh, another intuitive arranger/accompanist, who acts as overseer and routing wizard and, in the words of Captain Picard, makes it so. “Caravan” is a romp, with all hands, Self included, swinging for the upper deck and going yard with ease. “Quiet” is a vocal/guitar duet, nicely done, but perhaps not the climactic track on which to end. I might have placed it in the middle of the recital to provide some offset to the pervasively sunny effusion of the set. The only question left unanswered is whether or not Ms. Wills can dramatize a lyric, can make the listener feel misery and loss, can make us want to cry with her. Next time, perhaps.
* Jessie Wills did, in fact write the music and the lyrics to “What’s in Store,” with cordial assistance from P.J. Oh. Hope you like it!