A multi-talented jazz treasure in her hometown of Kansas City, her longtime home base of Los Angeles and far beyond for decades, vocalist, pianist and composer Betty Bryant gives a whimsical shout out to producer Robert Kyle at the end of the liner notes on her extraordinary latest album Project 88: “Again, thank you dear Rob for turning my little joke into a reality.”
The joke most likely had to do with the fact that she’s spent her life mastering, caressing and illuminating the piano’s 88 keys and she was soon turning 88 years young. The reality finds Kyle – who affectionately dubs Bryant “Cool Miss B” – gathering some of SoCal’s top jazz cats (including the endlessly inventive, always spot on trumpeter and horn arranger Tony Guerrero) and surrounding her with swinging, buoyant, jazzy and bluesy love. Blending confident swagger and gentle vulnerability, she engages soulfully, emotionally and at times humorously (see “Catfish Man”) on a set blending thoughtful and spirited originals (highlighted by the samba “Cho-Cho,” a co-write with Kyle and her longtime show closer “It’s Hard To Say Goodbye”) and artfully curated classics by Irving Berlin, The Gershwins and others.
While Betty’s vocals are pure, charming and warmly inviting throughout, the true coolness comes from her compelling soloing and harmonizing on those 88s. The musicianship throughout is first-rate, highlighted by sax and flute solos by Kyle and a nifty acoustic guitar solo by Kleber George on “Cho-Cho.”