By Frank Alkyer | Published September 2023
Claire Daly has a warm, inviting, witty, tremendously engaging personality that shines through in her playing. Just as the goal of a great writer is to write as they speak to make their craft more personal, Daly plays how she thinks. And that thoughtfulness is on full display on her new recording, Vuvu For Frances, a tribute to one of New York City’s long-standing jazz patrons, the 98-year-old Frances Ballantyne.
The recording serves as a throwback in many ways, tipping its hat to the heyday of the 52nd Street jazz haunts from the 1950s, beginning with the album’s cover: a classic Bill Gottlieb photo of “The Street,” to beautifully rendered chestnuts like Jimmy Van Heusen’s “All The Way,” Johnny Mercer’s “Fools Rush In” and “Mood Indigo” from the team of Duke Ellington and Barney Bigard. The setting also turns into a terrific conversation between Daly’s low-down bari and the flowing tenor of George Garzone, a colleague and long-time mentor.
Daly and Garzone together are magic. They flow in and out of each other’s lines, complement each solo and charm the bejeezus out of you on each of this set’s 13 tunes.
They throw down on Charles Lloyd’s “Sweet Georgia Bright,” backed by a swinging rhythm section in Jon Davis on piano, Dave Hofstra on bass and David F. Gibson on drums. Ditto on “People Will Say We’re In Love” at one of the fastest tempos this writer has ever heard. They plant their musical tongues firmly in cheek for a ride around “The Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound Of Music. You can almost hear free-jazz yodeling in the background as they play “Lay ee old lay ee old-oo,” then take the whole tune into an avant-garde tantra before returning, true to form.
The rest of the set just offers a warm embrace. “Half Nelson,” “Harlem Nocturne,” “The Very Thought Of You” and more, delivered with all the grace and warmth these kids can muster.
What else can be said? Go get some Vuvu. It’ll be good for your soul.