Cynthia Felton knocks us down with her astonishing pipes right out of the box and never lets up, stalwartly working through the music of Duke Ellington with Come Sunday. The record is a confidently original homage, brimming with colourfully rendered renditions of classic pieces by Ellington and his writing and arranging partner Billy Strayhorn.
Felton is, without question, a vocalist in absolute love with the beauty and freedom of jazz. An assiduous and extraordinary sage, her knowledge of the art form is only exceeded by her passion.
For Felton, the uncertainty of true musical exploration is what she uses to her advantage. Sure, having an incredible voice helps. But Felton – that’s Dr. Felton to you – is as interested in the “mistakes” as she is in the precision.
Her thrill-seeking commences straightaway as she knocks the big notes out on “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.” The piece is underlined with nimble drum work from Terri Lynne Carrington, but it’s Felton’s four-octave range that really sets sail. She tackles the exuberant arrangement with the zest of someone belting it out in a private moment, owning the music fully by giving herself over to the swing.
Felton brings an imposing litany of musical scholarship to her cause, but it’s her mastery of hearing the music she’s playing over that really brings the cool to Come Sunday. Lining up with players like Jeff Clayton, Cyrus Chestnut, Robert Hurst, and Ernie Watts isn’t going to be easy for any vocalist, but Felton impresses with her ability to fit snugly in the arrangements.
“Perdido” is an excellent example. Her voice is immense and controlled, even through the wild scat portions, but her facility to hang back while Yoron Israel pops out an unassuming drum solo is really something. The cut is exquisitely anchored by Donald Brown’s impeccable piano.
Understated power comes to the fore with Felton’s tackling of the title track, a well-dressed work that feels both intimate and vast. The affectionate ivory-tickling of Chestnut is engaging and magnificent, giving the good doctor a platform on which to spread her passion. The balladry of “Lush Life” picks up on similar themes.
And who can resist the funky authority of “Take the A Train?” Felton adds just the right amount of sass, breezing through over a pinch of R&B.
Through her hunger and endurance, Dr. Cynthia Felton pays gorgeous tribute to the work of Duke Ellington. Come Sunday is a spectacular record, standing as both a fond look back and a potent push forward for this vivacious, incredible vocalist.