For her new album, Outside The Soirée, Chicago-based vocalist Erin McDougald decided to pursue her ambitions and go big. The result is a thrilling, 80-minute program featuring contributions from two of the greatest living instrumentalists in jazz: Tom Harrell (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Dave Liebman (soprano and tenor saxophones).
McDougald is a skilled bandleader and singer who can swing with grace, as she does on “Don’t Be On The Outside,” or coax depths of emotion out of a ballad, as she does on a powerful rendition of Cole Porter’s “Begin The Beguine.” McDougald’s version of “Don’t Wait Up For Me” (which singer Chris Connor recorded in 1955), offers the intoxicating combination of her subtle vocals, Liebman’s knotty, yet propulsive, soprano saxophone solo and Harrell’s pristine trumpet. Elsewhere, on “The Man With The Horn,” Harrell and McDougald craft an intimate, compelling dialogue, featuring his muted horn work and her graceful vocal delivery, which showcases a mastery of dynamics.
Throughout the 13 tracks, McDougald doesn’t bogart the spotlight, frequently stepping aside for exquisite solos from the eight instrumentalists who participated in the sessions, which included bassist Cliff Schmitt and the brothers Rob Block (piano, guitars) and Dan Block (alto saxophone, flute, clarinet).
To be a successful interpreter of standards, one must be a convincing narrator, and McDougald repeatedly proves she’s up to the task. When she unfurls “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most,” the listener might hang on each word, every sculpted syllable. More impressively, many listeners actually will believe our protagonist as she croons and sighs Fran Landesman’s gut-punching lyrics, such as, “Love is just a ghost.” Within this eight-minute rendition, McDougald’s arrangement offers some brief, nuanced scatting, a sweet dose of swing, a potent, buoyant vibraphone solo from Mark Sherman and a compelling argument that there’s plenty of new avenues to explore in a vintage standard—even one that’s been recorded by titans like Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter and Cassandra Wilson.