To fully understand just why Masumi Ormandy’s triumphant jazz career at the ripe young age of 84 (culminating in her exquisitely arranged and produced album Beyond the Sea) is so remarkable, it’s important to take a look back at what can only be known as a dream long deferred.
Early in her life, the unique Japanese born vocal interpreter had music training at conservatories in Tokyo and San Francisco, then chose marriage and a completely different way of impacting the world. She and her husband Ray founded the still thriving Pacific Language School in Tokyo, which offers English language instruction for Japanese students of all ages.
Ormandy has been pretty unstoppable since achieving her long set aside musical goals with the help of artist/producer Roseanna Vitro on her critically acclaimed 2016 album Sunshine in Manhattan. She’s released three CDs in Japan and performed throughout her home country, Europe and the U.S.
Which brings us to the new Vitro-produced collection featuring a virtual ocean of NYC’s heavy studio hitters – including popular contemporary jazz artist, guitarist Chieli Minucci, who chimes in on the uber-dreamy title track. Though her vocals are noticeably accented, she brings effortless charm and a truly joyful exuberance (truly her Midas touch!) to every dynamic Allen Farnham arrangement she engages with.
From “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and “Smile” through “Here’s To Life,” “Sentimental Journey” and “Tea for Two,” most of the tunes are very familiar and oft-interpreted yet come across as fresh because of her sweetly soulful sincerity and crafty charts by Farnham, the pianist who anchors the core trio (also featuring Dean Johnson on upright bass and Tim Horner on drums). Perhaps the most unexpected twist is the funky, boisterous and brassy New Orleans flavored arrangement of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” performed as a sassy vocal duet with soprano saxophonist Danny Bacher.
On a set populated mostly by GAS standards, Ormandy offers a few sweet tastes of her home culture via two tunes of Japanese origina, the sensual and lyrical (and bilingual!) “Like a River Flowing” and the majestic, jazzy closing track “Ringo No Uta (The Apple Song),” featuring English lyrics by NYC pianist Jonathan Katz, Ormandy’s Tokyo bandleader.