Catherine Russell, who plays Jazz Alley Oct. 6-9, has just released a fine new album, “Harlem on My Mind,” which presents a brace of smartly selected vintage tunes.
Catherine Russell, who plays Jazz Alley Thursday-Sunday (Oct. 6-9), has just released a fine new album, “Harlem on My Mind,” which presents a brace of smartly selected vintage tunes such as Fats Waller’s “Blue Turning Grey Over You,” Benny Carter’s “When Lights Are Low” and Clarence Williams’ hilarious double entendre, “You’ve Got the Right Key But the Wrong Keyhole.”
Russell has a leg up when it comes to jazz history. She is the daughter of band leader Luis Russell, whose band featured Louis Armstrong for years, and guitarist and vocalist Carline Ray, who played with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. But it’s her talent, not her lineage, that carries this album. Thanks to the clarity and theatricality of her delivery, and what appears to be an innate emotional honesty, Russell inhabits these tunes so plausibly they feel simultaneously old and new, never falling into the cutesy tone that so often makes old songs feel like curiosities in an antique shop.
The title track, by Irving Berlin, is an interesting slice of history that references African-Americans in Paris in the 1920s longing for home (“I’ve become too darned refined … I’ve got Harlem on my mind”), a period vividly documented in Claude McKay’s novel of the same era, “Harlem Glory.”
7:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday (Oct. 6-9) with 9:30 p.m. sets Friday and Saturday, at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave., Seattle; $31.50 (206-441-9729 or jazzalley.com).
“The Very Thought of You,” written by the great Ray Noble (“Cherokee,” “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now”) is lavished with a languid tenor saxophone solo by Fred Staton. The variety of arrangements throughout is a pleasure.
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But the real coup here is that Russell, who used to work as a professional backup singer (including a road tour with David Bowie), caps this album of mostly ’20s tunes with such ’50s fare as Little Willie John’s slow-dance hit “Talk To Me, Talk To Me” and Dinah Washington’s “Let Me be the First to Know,” which brings it all back home, showcasing the continuity between one era’s “soul music” and another’s.
Russell played Jazz Alley for two nights last year. Her powder keg stage presence and winning stage persona has prompted the club to bring her back this year for four.