Carla Cook ranks among my favorite contemporary singers...Simply Natural, is doubly appropriate, reflecting Cook's natural talent while reminding us that she remains delightfully free of artifice or affectation. With Cook, there is never a wasted gesture...
JazzTimes May 2003
At last, a jazz singer who truly re-covers the standard waterfronts with fresh coats of paint. A real presence. A mad-loose straight ahead jazz diva with a gospel soul, big band heart, classical cool and improvisational hot. And what a beautiful voice - warm amber-hued contralto. Cook gets to fulfill all her brass fantasies on Dem Bones.
Cook's Dem Bones (***1/2), her follow up to her Grammy-nominated debut, It's All About Love, draws its material from sources as diverse as traditional hymns, Duke Ellington and Bobbie Gentry, all while taking innovative approaches to the songs. The title track features her scatting over a grooving three-trombone arrangement.
And when it comes to programming an album, Cook belies her limited experience on the topic. Standards, Brazilian tropicalia tunes, and a couple of jazz classics flow into and out of each other like tributaries of a might river. Cook herself wrote the delightful title track and a standard-to-be, "A Lover's Lullaby." Dem Bones has the air of a minor classic guided by a singer/musician of blossoming ability.
As impressive as she sounds on her new album, Dem Bones, she was even more impressive away from the studio in an airier, more open setting. What makes her special is the way she meshes musical sensibilities with the easy forcefulness of her personality. Whatever she took on, she did so with a lovely sense of control, making judicious sue of her radiant, crystal clear high notes. She scatted with a richness and range that is beyond most of her contemporaries.
Carla Cook indicates a talent and desire that suggest that Dem Bones, the follow up to her 1999 Grammy-nominated debut, It's All About Love, is more than just a high profile affair. In a larger sense, the great company she keeps also includes the pantheon of great women singers who've always thought of themselves as members of the band. When the smart trombone section moves in, we are reminded of what this album is all about: namely, a singer resting comfortably in the arms of her bandmates, who blow all around her, supporting her as she offers a unique and inimitable voice.
A Detroit native weaned on Motown and gospel, Cook has a hefty, bluesy timbre, with a honeyed brightness in the upper half of her range. She phases as naturally as the sun sets and on ballads and down-tempo standards her blend of sung melody and speech rhythms practically glows; when she scats, it's not a perfunctory trick but an organic, improvisatory extension of the written line.
Vocalist Carla Cook follows up her 1999 Grammy-nominated album with a sterling mixed bag of songs that range from bossa nova and bop to funk, gospel, and even country. To top off the eclecticism, she employs the trombone trio of Fred Wesley, Craig Harris and Tyrone Jefferson, resulting in an intoxicating album that is as adventurous as it is accessible.
"Cook covers a range of great material on her new recording, Dem Bones. Among the standouts is the title song, which Cook composed with three trombones in mind… and her take on the pop tune, Ode to Billy Joe on which she puts a soulful groove. Throughout the 11 song set, Cook's distinctive voice is the star.
"The fact that singers as gifted as Carla Cook aren't deluged with gold records is downright criminal. Luckily, we've discovered her. It's All About Love is bound together by Cook's rich and flexible voice, deliriously proficient scatting, and a band that cooks too. It's hard do describe how deeply satisfying are Cook's vocal skills, her tempi and
arrangements and her fresh interpretations of standards. One just has to marvel and enjoy, feeling certain that whenever Cook steps up to the mike, Ella et al. are smiling down on her from above snapping their fingers and beaming."
"She has sass that enlivens her impeccable diction, and tremendous soul that lets her swagger with gutbucket finesse, but it's all buttressed with sparkling optimism and innocence."
John Murph - The Washington Post
"Her debut album 'It's All About Love' was nominated for a Grammy this year. Cook lost, but the world now knows about the rich texture of her contralto; her natural feel for the rhythm of bebop, R&B and Brazil; and the impressive tightrope she walks between improvising and reading a lyric."
Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival
"The first of the new MAXJAZZ label singers to breakout, Cook was nominated for a Grammy this year… Shows great range in music styles, and bluesy, swinging approach to songs that guarantee music longevity."
Philadelphia Daily News
"This young woman handles the wide range of material with remarkable ease and good taste. I was especially taken with September Song, a tune that never made my list of favorites in the past. Carla rendition is superb."
The Jazz Review
"Carla Cook possesses a contralto of rich, caramel texture and is a true improviser, ornamenting melodies with melismatic flourishes and twisting phrases into curious shapes that zig when you expect them to zag. She grew up singing in the church, leaving a voice scented with gospel, swings the devil out of a standard and wrings emotion
from a ballad. Detroit's diverse musical culture grounded her in the fundamentals of jazz, but also left her open to the influence of blues, pop and soul."
Detroit Free Press
"I'm already tempted to call her one of my favorite jazz singers. Part of Cook's appeal is her reach. She has a real command of every idiom, not just eclectic taste in material… She folds those elements into her overall style so that they peek through as delicious accents… she sings Basie, Rodgers & Hart and Nascimento. But also taps into the music of her native Detroit and her experience in gospel choirs. Even if she were to scat on two tunes in a row, I'd still want to hear more on the third. She's capable of real magic."
Neil Tesser - Chicago Reader
"It would be difficult to name a contemporary jazz singer with an instrument as arresting as Cook's rich, warm voice or one with such meticulous intonation. Her scatting, usually the stumbling block for young singers, is as inventive and thoughtfully structured as the improvisations of a master instrumentalist. With her beautiful sound, uncommonly wide range, razor sharp intonation, and sensitivity to lyrics, Cook is set to emerge as one of the
major jazz voices of the new millennium."
Joel E. Siegel - Washington City Paper
"There's no doubt about it: Carla Cook's got it. From the opener of It's All About Love, the vocalist's debut as leader, it's clear that Cook possesses intuitiveness and seriousness, qualities that set her apart. She's not merely a singer leading a band, she is part of the mix and improvisation. Notably, the album earned her a Grammy nomination for the
Best Jazz Vocal Performance. On the first tune, Until I Met You (Corner Pocket). Cook immediately displays her remarkable vocal range and acute sense of rhythm and timing."
"Cook's rise to the forefront of young jazz vocalists was signaled when It's All About Love, the vocalist's debut recording garnered a Grammy nomination. In her music she uses the same improvisational freedom as instrumentalists do. In fact, her style is as electric as pianist Jaki Byard's solos. She rolls up different musical forms, then ties them to a solid blues sensibility."
Detroit Metro Times
"...Cook is such an appealing and resourceful vocalist that she can turn even harmonically simple material into something interesting and sometimes compelling. Her interpretative gifts and sure-footed scatting are evident throughout the album, infusing the performances with a potent mixture of emotion and energy."
Mike Joyce, The Washington Post
"She isn't a dewy blond or a postadolescent waif, so Carla Cook would seem to be facing a rocky path across the current jazz terrain. But she can sing, really sing." Cook can Cook!"
Daniel Okrent, TIME Magazine