Close Enough for Love
The Best from the Least Showy Jazz Singer of All Time
There are lots of prerequisites for being a jazz diva; playing an instrument isn't one of them. Spend an hour listening to the magnificent singer and pianist Shirley Horn, however, and you'll understand why it helps. When she sings, the husky-voiced Horn is all about understatement—her little brushed-off phrases and breathy undertones bring an almost otherworldly luster to standards. Her voice seems to float along, an illusion she creates by the way she accompanies herself on the piano, with economical chords and carefully measured phrases. She carves out a cozy space where her voice goes, and makes sure that space remains completely uncluttered. Where most singers (and, for that matter, pianists) rush to fill every second, her genius happens inside vast openness.
Horn (1934–2005) had the most unusual career path of any great jazz singer. A native of Washington, D.C., she made a few records with Quincy Jones for Mercury, beginning in 1963. Among those enchanted by her delivery was Miles Davis, who heard some of his own austere tactics in her work and became a loud champion. But at the very moment she seemed poised for stardom, Horn dropped out of sight to raise a family, continuing to perform, occasionally, in D.C. clubs.
Horn never lost her knack for spinning miniature dramas from the standard repertoire. Amazingly, when she was rediscovered in the mid-'80s, her gift had deepened. This album is the most entrancing of a series of solid records she made for Verve, and it's got all the hallmarks of her style—ballads that move at a transfixing crawl and polite mid-tempo swingers dotted with brilliant ad-libs. The spotlight always finds Horn's calm, affect-free voice, which is plenty intoxicating all by itself. But it's her behind-the-scenes work at the piano—the thick moods she draws from simple, almost still chords—that lifts Close Enough for Love to the realm of the sublime.
Genre: Jazz, Vocals
Released: 1988, Verve
Key Tracks: "Once I Loved," "I Got Lost in His Arms," "It Could Happen to You," "But Beautiful."
Catalog Choice: You Won't Forget Me
Next Stop: Abbey Lincoln: Abbey Sings Billie, Vol. 1
After That: Norah Jones: Feels like Home
Book Pages: 367–368