Controversial word “Melodic” in a jazz context but everyone loves a canvas.
Some people do not like the Melodic side of things at all whatever it actually means to them and how long is a piece of string anyway? There also is a kind of jazz fan who does not like vocals at all. Fact. Unfortunate but true.
For everyone else reading this and people who leave their vague likes and dislikes where they belong, in the bin, McKelle has been around the block a few times thankfully because it takes forever for a good singer to flower.
I think this is her seventh album. It begins in Melody Gardot territory with a churchy organ vibe and then goes for an oh so sweet ballad in ‘Lyla’ which is a very pretty song and more than enough to justify any interest in this record released by Doxie. The song has a sort of accompaniment that Chip Crawford provides for Gregory Porter so prick up your ears.
Last time I recall McKelle was when The Looking Glass was about and its big song, a McKelle original ‘Stay’. She writes great songs that exist on a personal level. She is not trying to save the world just shows empathy for it.
McKelle however is very hard to pin down and that is a good thing but you will have to work at understanding her songs, switch the brain on. Above all she interprets mood and finishes sentences. She makes sense of jazz, soul and the blues like la Gardot in a way but there is less of a gloss to her approach but just as much spirit and skill. There is also a lot of sophistication here in a good way that is: blandness be away with you even when this record is accessible. You know the feeling when you step into a world class jazz club and you think you are in a seminar by mistake the presence of cocktails not withstanding and cannot get the fascination? It happens to us all some of the time.
Well that magic spell is here somehow created out of very uncreative raw materials in terms of the bourgeois everydayness and you as a listener will have to step up to the challenge or ship out. Certainly McKelle can qualify as a jazz singer if that actually means anything any more but I know it does to some people so I am saying it. The best is still to come surely this is only the auspicious beginning of a new phase and more than OK to be going on with as la McKelle moves into her considerable prime ***1/2
1 Joni Mitchell
The greatest singers transcend genre. Their appeal is wide and yet they speak person-to-person. That is part of why Joni Mitchell means so much to so many people who are into so many different kinds of music. Because it is the poetry, the meaning, the unique sensibility, the lyrics and the mood. These things are all created. They do not happen by accident. All these things and much more make Joni Mitchell a presence in people’s lives, have done for decades and will continue through her own back catalogue and the tribute albums that many fine singers and instrumentalists have delivered over the years that find new meaning and inspiration among the life affirming and exploratory ecosystem of the songs.
2 Diana Krall
Again a singer who has outgrown genre although she was raised by jazz. I guess most people who go to her concerts these days are not all jazz fans or even much at all. That, purists please, does not matter one bit. Think about it. Initially Krall emerged as a pianist and singer and was mentored by Ray Brown one of the greatest bassists in jazz history. These days she is a producer as well as a singer and new vocal stars like the Australian Sarah McKenzie owe her a lot and take the classic jazz tradition from Ella and Anita and Rosemary to Sarah to Billie and on to a new generation who are joyfully discovering the music for the first time.
3 Cassandra Wilson
While she may not have made much impact on jazz since the marvellous Loverly a decade ago although her Billie Holiday homage was very fine indeed Cassandra Wilson if she never made another record still would stay high up on anyone's list. Why? Well she unites jazz and the blues and again like Joni and Diana has broad appeal because she understands the songs she sings and does not just sing them however beautifully. Blue Light Til Dawn is her go-to album. Go to and stay for ages.
4 Cécile McLorin Salvant
She takes jazz way back to the first three or four decades of its life. While her career is only in its first tremendous phase so far she has made a huge impact on jazz, not just winning prizes, but winning the hearts of audiences via her consummate skill with words, marvellous range and that wit and sass.
5 Carmen Lundy
Woefully underknown, one of the most neglected of all these great singers as far as the great Irish and British jazz public is concerned. For my money the best jazz club singer in the world today. Intimacy is paramount. Her shows will change your life.
6 Patricia Barber
A poet, a risk taker, temperamental. Yet alone Mythologies is one of the greatest jazz concept albums, either vocal or instrumental, of the last 30 years. Satori awaits your own Odyssey in trawling her back catalogue.
7 Kurt Elling
What can you say, his voice is a wonder and he has a philosophical presence somehow. As wise as a Johnny Hartman, as free spirited in song as a Mark Murphy.
8 Gregory Porter
The blessed one. Has turned on a new, even yes Rag 'n' Bone Man, generation to jazz. The story began as so much in life, indulge me in being over literal, with Water.
9 Jamie Cullum
A revelation in 2003 he is the biggest global British jazz singing star since Cleo Laine. Nowadays his celebrity status gets in the way of everything however his poppiness should not stop you tapping into that Harry Connick Jr rooted sound of his that has made him an indispensable presence encompassing globetrotting touring, his radio show and music industry punditry. Twentysomething is still his biggest selling and best album to date. As he ages the story will get even more absorbing.
10 Andy Bey
Ultimate connoisseur's choice perhaps, 'touching souls' in the language of Joni or the wider jazz esperanto. Be moved.
11 Van Morrison
Yes a great jazz singer as well as everything else. This clip with Chet Baker, all flawed and so human, is utterly remarkable.
12 Tony Bennett
Walks on water for many. Yes there is that showbiz side, yes there is that crossover side. Absolutely. For new fans begin with his duets with Amy Winehouse and go back to the work with Bill Evans and Dave Brubeck.
13 Theo Bleckmann
Superb interpreter of Kate Bush... and so much more. Seek out his work with Michael Wollny.
14 Norma Winstone
No one does poignant or bittersweet better. For you: A me, myself and I singer for those reflective moments.
15 Dianne Reeves
Today's Ella Fitzgerald. Born to sing, and sings to birth a classic jazz movement.
16 José James
Begin with The Dreamer. Oozes sensuality. No one can sing Coltrane quite like JJ does.
17 Stacey Kent
Ultimate girl nextdoor singer. Nowadays surely The Duchess Stacey has grown as an artist hugely and has a signature sound drawn from the Great American Songbook and inspired by her deep Francophile and Lusophone interests.
18 Norah Jones
As much a country singer as a jazz singer. No matter. Her voice is everywhere, a joy, and instantly recognisable.
19 Youn Sun Nah
Marvellous whether singing a Randy Newman or Tom Waits song. A vocal acrobat and tender interpreter.
20 Ian Shaw
Expert imaginer of Fran Landesman and Joni Mitchell, and so much more, the campaigning jazz singer who makes us all want to join his jazz party.