Somewhere over the course of her four critically acclaimed albums since 1998, the inimitable NYC jazz vocal stylist and premiere musical storyteller Mary Foster Conklin earned words of praise that could double as a mission statement to this day. Cadence Magazine called her “someone who values freshness over music that appears regularly in everyone’s repertoire” and lauded her for “bringing to life seldom heard or forgotten songs with meaningful lyrics.”
That fresh, adventurous spirit animates and drives the great range of emotions the singer shares on her latest collection whose title beautifully captures the brevity and fragility of life: These Precious Days. In the wake of both her parents passings in recent years, she says the heartfelt, soulful, sometimes gently reflective yet often playful and whimsical 11 track set is “about love, loss and the power of the Now.”
That “now,” at least seven delightful songs of it, serve as a celebration of female songwriters and co-writers and in some ways are a thematic extension of her weekly internet radio show (on WFDU.fm’s HD2 channel) “A Broad Spectrum – the Ladies of Jazz,” which celebrates women composers and lyricists. When we see “Summertime” at the top of the tracking, we’re thinking “umpteenth Gershwin cover” but Mary’s got a semi-obscure, freedom seeking Leonard Cohen gem (co-written by Sharon Robinson and recorded first by Diana Ross) up her bustling, tropical sleeve.
She also brings her sly, supple vocal dexterity (buffeted by pianist John DiMartino’s alternately exquisite and hoppin’ arrangements) to gems co-written by Cynthia Weil (“Just a Little Lovin’”), Melissa Manchester/Carole Bayer Sager (“Come in From the Rain”), Dory Previn (“Just For Now”), Buffy Sainte-Marie (“Until It’s Time For You to Go”) and, perhaps most delightfully obscurely of all, Melba Liston and Abbey Lincoln’s “Rainbow,” which allows Mary to bring a measured sense of hope amidst the many mixed emotions she presents on the collection. She also introduces the graceful melancholy “Scars” with an insightful poem by Fran Landesman.
Beyond those, it feels like the heart and soul of the collection lie in the two Lieber and Stoller songs that first appeared on Peggy Lee’s 1975 cult classic Mirrors – the sly, hipster “Some Cats Know” (given intoxicating rhythm and harmonic sparkle by guitarist Guilherme Monteiro and violinist Sara Caswell, respectively) and a sensual rendering of “A Little White Ship.”