Remember where you are when you hear Time Traveler. It will be easy to. If you are in your car you'll be pulling over to the side and need to switch the engine off. If you are in a place where the radio is on you'll be waiting for the DJ to say who the record is by. You'll hear about it word of mouth probably first of all. It has that kind of aura to it. Because from note 1 you will know if you are a classic vocals-jazz fan that you have come home because Nnenna Freelon is back and how with a record that you do not want to put off for oh probably days ahead. Each time you put it on you will find new detail and a wealth of interpretative flourish.
It's been a long time since Nnenna was in the studio. Time Traveler, the issuing label explains is ''a celebration of love and a prayer of hope for those living with loss'' and follows the passing of Freelon’s husband Phil. Opening with the classic Bacharach-David song 'I Say a Little Prayer' is a perfection. What follows matches. The 'Marvin Medley' featuring a joining together of 'If This World Were Mine', 'Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing,' 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' goes up a gear; but her own song 'Just You' is even better and a joy.
Then it's a fluent ''Betcha by Golly Wow' the Thom Bell/Linda Creed song that has a lightness and to it that engages. Including Jim Croce's 'Time in a Bottle' is a curveball and acts as a reset if you are listening from start to finish which I suggest you must to gain maximum impact rather than snack on tracks in any old way. This is beyond casual and an active listen throughout.
In a sense the rest of the album starts after this track. And that begins with the Thom Bell and Linda Creed song 'You Make Me Feel Brand New' synonymous with The Stylistics that is staggeringly delivered and so intimately accompanied by Keith Ganz. 'Moon River' begins with a lovely piano solo, certainly you do not know initially that it will go into the famous Henry Mancini melody. Nnenna stetches out and shows she can make all the time in the world seem easy and makes you want more endlessness. 'Time After Time' with the great Gerald Veasley on bass guitar changes tack, there is a new warmth in Nnenna's voice that we haven't heard so far as she goes into an Anita Baker world a bit and this is an extremely hip verison of the great Sammy Cahn, Jule Styne song. A boisterous 'Come Rain or Come Shine' is very bluesy and a roar coming on from deep within plus a certain feel that the great E. J. Strickland laying back at the kit factors in going behind the beat flush against the keys just one of those thaaaangs Nnenna customises.
'Time Traveler' is moving and life-affirming, voices of enduring love manifested and the track is reprised at the end. I guess this will go down a storm with every lover of classic jazz vocals. To say that seems obvious. Players on the album with Nnenna are pianist Miki Hayama also on Fender Rhodes and synths on some tracks; Chuckey Robinson on keys on a couple of tracks; Brandon McCune on Hammond organ on a couple of tracks including the Bacharach-David opener; Keith Ganz on guitar; Noah Jackson on double bass; Gerald Veasley on bass guitar on a couple of tracks, Lance Scott a couple more; E. J. Strickland on drums mostly with Adonis Rose and Jon Curry on a couple each; the great Beverly Botsford is on percussion; with Trineice Robinson-Martin, back-up vocals on the opener, tenorist/flautist smooth jazz star Kirk Whalum on one track and cellist Shana Tucker on a track. SG. To be released on Friday 21 May by Origin
Nnenna Freelon, top. Photo: courtesy Origin