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Best Music Of 2011

Top 5 Jazz Vocal Performances Of 2011

Norah Jones kicks off KPLU's list of great vocal performances in 2011. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Norah Jones kicks off KPLU's list of great vocal performances in 2011.

Courtesy of the artist

How many ways can you sing a song? Why do some pieces work only with certain vocalists? Why is it so rare to have the right fit between a singer and a song? Is it simply a matter of arrangement, or does the style and sensibility of a particular vocalist lend itself to making a piece "work"?

These five tunes — all from excellent 2011 releases — exemplify how great singers and great songs fit together. In each case, the vocal sound, style and personality of the singer slips into the theme and structure of each tune like a proverbial glove.

5 Awesome Jazz Vocal Performances From KPLU

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Sophie Millman, 'Do It Again'

  • from In The Moonlight
  • by Sophie Millman

Legend has it that Marilyn Monroe once sang this George Gershwin tune to a large gathering of Marines at Camp Pendleton in the 1950s and nearly caused a riot. Gershwin himself first played the song to stir up action at parties, and described it as "innocently sensual." Sophie Millman is subtler and more sophisticated than Monroe, but her phrasing, punctuated with purrs, tickles and moans, is a knowing enticement, with a little nod to innocence.

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Song
In The Moonlight
Album
In The Moonlight
Artist
Sophie Millman
Label
eOne Music
Released
2011

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All the Way

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/144146794/144134721" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Sachal Vasandani, 'All the Way'

  • from Hi-Fly
  • by Sachal Vasandani

It's hard not to reference Sinatra with this song, but the young Vasandani's strongest skill is singing ballads, and doing so with subtle and tight phrasing, all wrapped around his beautiful, velvety voice. He nails this one.

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Song
Hi-Fly
Album
Hi-Fly
Artist
Sachal Vasandani
Label
Mack Avenue
Released
2011

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Norah Jones and Charlie Haden, 'Ill Wind' Courtesy of the artist. hide caption

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Norah Jones and Charlie Haden, 'Ill Wind'

  • from Sophisticated Ladies
  • by Charlie Haden Quartet West

"Ill Wind" is all about the blues and melancholy, a tune that has Norah Jones written all over it. This is one of her absolute best vocal performances, as well as a standout from the great recent Charlie Haden Quartet West recording. It's hard to believe that Come Away With Me is nearly a decade old; this performance shows clearly how Jones' vocal work has carried on.

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Song
Sophisticated Ladies
Album
Sophisticated Ladies
Artist
Charlie Haden Quartet West
Label
Emarcy
Released
2011

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Kurt Elling, 'Samurai Cowboy' Courtesy of the artist. hide caption

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Kurt Elling, 'Samurai Cowboy'

  • from Gate
  • by Kurt Elling

Jazz raconteur, scat singer and beat-boxer; sophisticated man-about-town and lovable goofball; philosopher and poet, romantic and comic. How does any song fit into the polyglot world of Kurt Elling? The answer lies in "Samurai Cowboy," a mix of all of the above. Bassist Marc Johnson wrote the melody, which Elling playfully transforms into a rhythmic, twisty, philosophical treatise, referencing Descartes, the physics of aerobics and aliens inside your mind.

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Song
Gate
Album
Gate
Artist
Kurt Elling
Label
Concord Jazz
Released
2011

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Eliane Elias, 'Light My Fire' Courtesy of the artist. hide caption

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Eliane Elias, 'Light My Fire'

  • from Light My Fire
  • by Eliane Elias

The Girl From Ipanema meets Jim Morrison. Elias turns the Lizard King's rock anthem into a slow samba groove and delivers its message of desire with quiet, focused whispers.

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Song
Light My Fire
Album
Light My Fire
Artist
Eliane Elias
Label
Concord
Released
2011

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