Putting lyrics to instrumental classics is the type of stuff that doesn’t always work out. In the case of Deborah Pearl’s Souvenir of You, however, magic happens.
Through her friendship with the late bandleader/composer/arranger, Pearl was able to transform his pieces into refreshing new sounds worth many a groove and smile. Her work with Benny’s widow Hilma has made Souvenir an even deeper, even warmer recording that becomes every bit the labour of love it’s advertised as.
The record opens with the big fat swing of “Happy Feet (At the Savoy).” Pearl sings her lyrics over a recording of Carter and his Big Band playing along with the Rutgers University Orchestra. Interestingly, Pearl’s trio hops in on the tune and transforms it into an all-star trade-off session. Pianist Lou Forestieri, bassist Kenny Wild and drummer Jimmy Branly meld with Carter’s Big Band seamlessly and the technical wizardry at the core of the union goes off without a hitch.
“Wonderland (Isle of Love)” becomes an ode to the love shared by Hilma and Benny Carter, while “Doozy Blues” perhaps updates the concept with the addition of cell phones and a series of Pearl’s clever couplets about ringtones and text messages. Fun stuff.
Pearl’s talent for writing is unquestionable, but her vocals are on-point as well. Having received accolades from Carter for her work on her one-woman show Chick Singers, in which she played as eight different “chick singers,” Pearl’s knack for hopping in with a little experimental scat singing or some fun runs is well-studied indeed.
Whether she’s singing songs about grief (“An Elegy in Blue”) or when “love puts wings on your shoes” (“Sky Dance for Two”), Pearl’s command of the many subjects of life is clear. Not only does she evince a passion for the work of the one and only Benny Carter, but she shows herself as truly illuminated by the human experience.
These songs of love, life and loss are warm soulful in all the right places, creating faultless matches for Carter’s stellar compositions, creating an album that is, most assuredly, a "souvenir" of one remarkable musician and a showcase of another.