Minnesota-born jazz singer Connie Evingson delivers her clear, alluring character on Sweet Happy Life, her ninth release on Minnehaha Music. The record pays tribute to Oscar and Grammy-winning lyricist Norman Gimbel, whose words have driven hit songs like “Killing Me Softly with His Song” and “The Girl from Impanema.”
Through it all, Evingson expresses her own voice. She has iridescent tone with just a dash of attitude. She never neglects the swing and ties in pleasantly with the instruments, forming a consistent vision of the songs that flows through the album.
Evingson was born in Bob Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, but she grew up on Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington. This came into play when she began her journey as an artist. Records based on music by the Beatles (Let It Be Jazz) and Peggy Lee (Fever) clarified her love for various forms, while regular appearances at the Dakota Jazz Club entrenched her in the jazz scene.
Sweet Happy Life is another step on the road. It reveals a sleek vocalist radiating poise. She hits all the right notes at all the right times, but the aforementioned splash of boldness comes in handy.
Take “The Girl from Impanema,” for instance. Evingson exudes unique cool, blending with Joan Griffith’s guitar for an intimate introduction. Her voice explores the honey depths of her tone, pushing lower and finding some suitably sultry places. Dave Karr pipes in with a pretty saxophone solo, while Joe Pulice keeps deceptively simple time.
Perhaps the keystone of Sweet Happy Life is “Adventure.” Gimbel’s English lyrics make their recorded debut and the Antonio Carlos Jobim composition is brought to life by Evingson’s voice, Griffith’s guitar and Christa Saeger’s restrained but chic cello.
Among jazz standards like “Bluesette” and “Canadian Sunset” sits “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” popularized in large part by Lauryn Hill’s rendition. Evingson astutely takes it in a different direction, taking her time with Gimbel’s lyrics. Phil Aaron’s piano is a delicate acquaintance.
With Sweet Happy Life, Gimbel’s lyrics are treated with admiration and revealed for the graceful word pictures they paint. Evingson’s vocals are pristine and polished, cutting every so often with a twinkle and a grin. She is a charming vocalist and a sophisticated interpreter of some really great songs.