Johnny Nocturne Band with Kim Nalley
Million Dollar Secret is an appropriate title for the new CD from Bay Area swingers Johnny Nocturne Band, because new singer Kim Nalley has a voice worth a million bucks. This band has always been hot, but the addition of the beautiful Ms. Nalley boosts them to the next level. Million Dollar Secret will most certainly be on my "top ten" list this year.
I haven't heard anyone sound this much like Billie Holiday since .... well, since Ms. Lady Day herself! Except that Nalley has more range. She can go from a sweet soprano to a growlin' baritone without breakin' a sweat.
But let's not ignore the rest of this red hot band. Tenor saxophonist John Firmin leads eight fellow instrumentalists in creating as tight and a swinging sound as you'll hear.
The disc kicks off with the title cut, originally done by Helen Humes. But Nalley gives it much of her own personality, as she sings about how she's going to make her fortune --- "...I've got a man who's 78, and I'm just 23, my friend's all think I'm crazy, but his will's made out to me..."
On "Comes Love," Nalley alternates between sounding sultry and sweet on this mid-tempo blues. She sounds most like Holiday on the slow, romantic ballad "If I Could Be With You."
The best example of Nalley's dynamic range is on the stoptime blues "I'm Stickin' With You Baby." This one features an excellent jazzy guitar solo from Anthony Paule.
Firmin gets to show off his sax prowess on the jump blues "Jump Tonight," a Big Joe Turner original. But he really demonstrates his originality on sax on the closing instrumental "Harlem Nocturne." This has also been a particular favorite of mine, but I've never heard anyone get as creative with the sax fills as Firmin (aka Johnny Nocturne).
Another tune that I just can't hear enough is a cover of a Duke Ellington / Billy Strayhorn novelty composition, "I'm Checkin' Out, Go'om Bye." Nalley sings more in the lower register on this one, and the band does a superb job in giving it that great Ellington sound with a much smaller group.
There are a lot of young bands out there in baggy suits calling their music "swing." But few of those groups play it as well as the Johnny Nocturne Band. And I guarantee that none of them have a singer as fine as Kim Nalley!
--- Bill Mitchell
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