Recording Date: Jul 15, 1991-Jul 12, 1997
Although vocalist Rachelle Ferrell is a bizarre singer whose idiosyncratic style is often at odds with her mainstream material, fans of the singer will certainly find much to enjoy on Live at Montreux. The CD collects various performances Ferrell gave at the Swiss music festival from 1991 to 1997. Primarily a jazz singer, Ferrell has also made forays into R&B and often melds the two styles. Prone to showcasing her six-octave range, she often accents songs in odd places, displays myriad vocal stylings in one phrase, and basically over-sings much of the time. Think of her as a combination of Betty Carter and Patti Labelle and you might enjoy yourself. Much of the first set on Live at Montreux features songs off her 1989 debut, First Instrument. Ending that set is "Prayer Dance," which spotlights Ferrell seemingly mimicking the high, laser tones of a theremin. Special guest pianist George Duke also makes an appearance.
Sweet as the prospect of a live Rachelle Ferrell compilation is, the album's title is a bit misleading. Fans expecting selections from seven years' worth of Montreux performances will be disappointed to discover that this is, in fact, a collection of nine tracks recorded in 1991 with a trio of "bonus" selections from the 1997 festival. Long-time Ferrell followers will recognize that much of the '91 material is replicated on her inaugural studio album, First Instrument, which was released in the U.S. in 1995.
Truth is, though, that First Instrument was recorded in 1989 and released in Japan that same year. In other words, the "live" tracks are a sequel, not a prequel, to her studio debut. Confused yet? No need. All that really matters is that Live in Montreux is a fascinating counterpoint to First Instrument that showcases the dynamic, young Ferrell at her budding best.
Seven selections are common to both albums, including a sinfully sensuous treatment of Sam Cooke's "You Send Me," sublime covers of "Bye Bye Blackbird," "You Don't Know What Love Is" and "My Funny Valentine" and the tart Ferrell original "Don't Waste Your Time." In each case, the accompanists-Eddie Green on piano, Tyrone Brown on bass and Doug Nally on drums-are identical, as are the arrangements. Though Ferrell is clearly comfortable in front of an enormous audience, the intensity of her irresistible sizzle varies little between stage and studio.
The Live collection does, however, offer a few surprises. It's intriguing, for instance, to compare Ferrell's lovely '89 interpretation of Cy Coleman's under-appreciated "With Every Breath I Take" with her decidedly more assured live version from '97 (boosted by some masterful keyboard work by surprise guest George Duke). Two other '97 crowd-pleasers-gorgeous renditions of Charles Aznavour's "Me Voila Seul" and "On Se Reveillera"-are equally wonderful additions to the eclectic Ferrell oeuvre.