Hilary Gardner, who lived briefly in Seattle a decade ago and has been in New York ever since, has released her first album on Anzic (the label that brought us the wonderful reed player Anat Cohen, among others) and is given an able assist on a few cuts by another Seattleite-turned-New Yorker, trumpeter Tatum Greenblatt. It’s a fine debut.
A sophisticated and literate love letter to Manhattan, “The Great City” offers a well-chosen brace of songs, both familiar — “Autumn in New York,” “Chelsea Morning” — and obscure — “Sweetheart (Waitress in a Donut Shop).” Gardner sings with impressive clarity and confidence, phrasing straightforwardly with her ample alto, using few mannerism or clichéd crutches, and occasionally attacking lines with the punch of a horn.
She’s particularly strong on the opening tune by Leonard Cohen, “No One After You,” accompanied by embers-glowing electric guitar, and on the title track, which brings out her feel for finger-popping swing, though her choice of material trends more cabaret than jazz. On the shop girl ditty, she captures loneliness in the big city with Streisand-like poignancy. So many singers leap from the nest before they are fully fledged. Gardner’s ready to fly.
– Paul DeBarros