Artist: Shirley Horn vocals and piano
Guest Artist: Wynton Marsalis, trumpet
Orchestra arranged and conducted by: Johnny Mandel
Label: Verve/Polygram
Release Date: April, 1992

If depression comes from the inability to find in nature beauty commensurate with that in the human psyche, this album is guaranteed to administer a cure.

— Samuel Chell

Most musicians I know collect a lot of music on record. This opus comes up in conversation frequently when discussing "top ten" jazz vocal recordings. It also arguably has a place in the list of the top ten jazz recordings ever made. Shirley Horn makes love to every single note, every single word, every single touch of the piano key — and is in full control of when the note from the piano ends. What's more remarkable is that Johnny Mandel's strings were arranged and over-dubbed following the session with Horn's combo. Mandel's contribution, although thrillingly lush at times, is used as marvelously sparingly as Ms. Horn's piano notes.

Trumpeter Marsalis takes the place of the intended artist, Miles Davis, Ms. Horn's mentor and friend, who died shortly before the artists went into the studio. Marsalis does a fine job doing justice to both charted and improvisational parts; but he's no Miles.

Not too long ago I was in the company of two good friends; one, a hard-boiled big-band trumpet soloist who's the last person I'd add to my list of emotionally sensitive people. The other individual is a woman who's seen hard times and doesn't frequently let her emotions rise to the surface. What we all had in common was our love of this album. So at 1:15 in the morning one weekday evening I put this record (the topic of conversation) on the stereo and poured another round of drinks. Half-way through the record's play, all three of us were wiping a tear or two away with our sleeves.

How could Ms. Horn's version of "You're Nearer" not be moving? The tune's popularity was rekindled when Judy Garland hoisted herself up onto the piano at Carnegie Hall in 1963 and sat and sang it from her heart. It's a song that means so, so much to the recipient of such lovely words paired with minimal accompaniment — Horn makes every listener believe that they, indeed, are the recipient of this musical love letter.

Horn's critics claim that cuts like "Here's to Life" and "If You Love Me" are emoted and over the top; cloyingly dramatic. I disagree but those cuts are indeed not favorites of mine, although delightful components of this work. "Summer (Estate)" is musically very, very serious; but its lyrics celebrate this season and look forward to the singer's favorite season hopefully. Don't listen to "Where do You Start" if you've recently had a breakup. It's all about the pieces of two peoples' lives after a good go at a relationship that has sadly fallen apart.

The beauty of this album is that it can be listened to over and over again and new meanings, new nuances, are discovered at every turn. That's what makes it an important work of art - a "painting" made of musical notes, if you will. "Return to Paradise" evokes exploring a tropical island, perhaps Saint Martin; orchids growing wild, azure seas and pink sand.

God bless Shirley Horn — as recently as the day before New Year's Eve 2004 when I visited her backstage at the Le Jazz Au Bar night club in New York, she was smoking two packs of Pall Malls a day, and insisting on her Drambuie with a Heineken chaser; despite ailments that would've scared most folks from these vices years before. She's a lesson in living life every single day as if it were your last.

TRACK LISTING:

1. Here's to Life
2. Medley: Come a Little Closer/Wild Is The Wind
3. How Am I To Know?
4. A Time For Love
5. Where do You Start?
6. You're Nearer
7. Return to Paradise
8. Isn't It a Pity?
9. Quietly There
10. If You Love Me
11. Summer (Estate)

Even if jazz isn't your bag, a copy of this album can be had on record store shelves at times for as little as $11. And it beats paying a shrink $200 a week to cure what ails your psyche.

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