The full name of the album is "The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet Featuring Special Guests Rebecca Kilgore and Eddie Erickson Perform Music From 'Guys and Dolls'" and, the title aside, it is the most copacetic blend of players, singers, and great songs that I have heard in many a year.
The new recording of the classic Frank Loesser score, by the marvelous tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and guitarist Joe Cohn, is in excellent company. There have been at least four jazz instrumental versions of "Guys and Dolls," a score that has been particularly rich in jazz "cover" activity since even before Ahmad Jamal and then Miles Davis made "If I Were a Bell" into a jazz standard. (Louis Armstrong also left us a delicious reading of "Sit Down, You're Rocking The Boat.") In 1958, the vibraphonist Eddie Costa and then-little-known pianist Bill Evans teamed up for a thoughtful exploration of the Loesser score. Most recently, in 1992, the terrific alto saxophonist Michael Hashim recorded his own adaptation.
Like the previous versions, the new recording features mostly hard-swinging renditions of the famous Loesser songs, but unlike its predecessors, it features two guest vocalists: Rebecca Kilgore and Eddie Erickson. For the most part, but not exclusively, the ballads are sung and the faster numbers are swung.
The opener and title track is brisk but not overbearingly fast, with Mr. Allen taking it in a Sinatra-Riddle-style heartbeat tempo that will make listeners dance with it, hum the words, or both.
Most of the remaining instrumental stops are pulled out in "Pet Me Poppa," which was originally meowed by Vivian Blane in a sequined cat suit; Messrs. Cohn and Allen retain that same erotic energy but add considerably more rhythm, culminating in a cat-and-mouse chase between the tenor and guitar. (One of the perks of the longer CD form is that it can encompass the entire score, including songs that were written for the film version, such as "Poppa" and the duet "A Woman in Love," as well as those that were only in the show, like "Marry the Man Today." Strangely, however, "A Bushel and a Peck" is missing; I can only guess that Messrs. Cohn and Allen prefer cats to chickens.
Ms. Kilgore and Mr. Erickson contribute mightily. One is grateful for any chance to hear Ms. Kilgore, who seems destined for some unjust reason never to land a gig of her own in New York. Unlike the great majority of singers who perform regularly in the city, she knows well that it's possible to swing like crazy without trashing a lyric; she possesses a full and supple voice, excellent time, and not only properly marries the words to the songs, but conveys in her singing a sense of the narrative shape of the entire show. She even makes music out of "Adelaide's Lament," which is essentially a soliloquy set to a beat — an early Broadway rap.
Yet Ms. Kilgore isn't alone. In addition to Mr. Erickson, who conveys a sense of Nathan Detroit-ian nebbishness even without any trace of an East Coast accent, there's Mr. Allen, who sings a melody with a lyricism and a sense of purpose that most vocalists would do well to emulate. Mr. Allen's major instrumental ballad is "I'll Know," which he plays with a Getzian airiness, not to mention a sense of longing and a lover's infinite patience. I hear the words more clearly in his playing than I do in the singing of most so-called contemporary jazz singers.
The Allen-Cohn Quartet breaks no new ground on this "Guys and Dolls," whatever that may mean, but rather they show that breaking old ground can be just as meaningful.
Here, in alphabetical order, is the rest of the Top 10 in Jazz for 2007:
Terence Blanchard, "A Tale of God's Will (A Requiem for Katrina)" (Blue Note): An epic but still remarkably heartfelt eulogy for solo jazz trumpet and symphony orchestra to the city of Mr. Blanchard's birth and the world that was washed away by the waters of Labor Day, 2005.
Bill Charlap, "Live at the Village Vanguard" (Blue Note): From the opening "Rocker" all the way through, this album shows that in a live setting, the pianist's long-running trio swings harder than any in the business. Equal mention goes to "Music, Maestro, Please" (High Note), Mr. Charlap's collaboration with the smooth-toned veteran vocalist Freddy Cole.
Anat Cohen, "Noir" (Anzic): This is the breakthrough album that New York jazz observers have been waiting for, showcasing the nascent Israeli clarinetist and saxophonist in front of a sumptuous, big-band backdrop.
Herbie Hancock, "River: The Joni Letters" (Verve): The subject matter (the songs of Joni Mitchell) and the presence of Tina Turner and Leonard Cohen led me to expect one of Mr. Hancock's more pop-oriented projects. To my surprise, it turned out to be one of the best hardcore jazz albums he's done in years, and also offered some of the finest recent playing from Wayne Shorter.
Joe Lovano & Hank Jones, "Kids: Live at Dizzy's" (Blue Note): The third in the series of joyous encounters by the tenor titan and the piano pontiff shows that it can be even better without bass and drums — and with an audience present. "Lazy Afternoon" will give you goose bumps.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, "Made in New Orleans: The Hurricane Sessions" (Preservation Hall Recordings): An amalgam of a CD, a DVD, and a box of tchotchkes that adds up to a rapturous, bittersweet collection of memories spanning the five decades of the Hall's and the band's existence.
Sue Raney, "A Tribute to Doris Day: Heart's Desire" (Fresh Sound): The first recording in 10 years by Los Angeles's greatest vocal treasure is an homage to another underappreciated singer. Ms. Raney makes even Day's children's songs seem like profound life lessons. Here's hoping we don't have to wait another decade for her next album or to see her live in New York.
Carol Sloane, "Dearest Duke" (Arbors): The other outstanding vocal album of the year is Ms. Sloane's latest and most heartfelt collection of Ellingtonia. The nod almost went to Andy Bey's new Birdland set, but the presence of the brilliant clarinetist Ken Peplowski on every track puts Ms. Sloane over the top.
Waverly Seven, "Yo Bobby!" (Anzic): The concept is loose — songs recorded by Bobby Darin — but the project itself is expansive and ambitious (a two-disc set), and the band is tight and swinging. The combo, which stars reed wunderkind Joel Frahm, saxophonist Anat Cohen, and the imaginative charts of Manuel Valera and Jason Lindner, recalls the best of the mid-size ensembles of the swing era with a distinctly modern edge.