Multi-Grammy Award-winning vocalist/pianist Diane Schuur partners with Grammy-winning saxophonist Ernie Watts to co-produce her first album in six years. Running on Faith is a deep blues album with personal favorites that Schuur has longed to record. What’s even better is that her piano chops are on display throughout the session, recorded with Watts on tenor and soprano, Kye Palmer on trumpet and flugelhorn, Tom Rotella on guitar, with bassist Bruce Lett and drummer Kendall Kay rounding out the sextet.
Remarkably, this is the first time the lauded blind since birth vocalist/pianist has chosen all the compositions for her album. Of course, she chose some great ones with an eye on the condition of our current world “BC,” (before coronavirus). She includes songs from Miles Davis, Percy Mayfield, Paul Simon, Lennon & McCartney, Carole King, Paul Thorn, and Doc Pomus to name a few. Nicknamed “Deedles,” Shuur authors a long passage in the liners, from which this perhaps resonates best – “I went deep inside when I began the steps to make this statement. I did a lot of thinking about where I am physically and spiritually, about how to create an artistic palette that could illuminate my unease about social inequality and the bitter unrest among humans that share this planet upon which we walk. At the same time, I wished to bring forth a seed of optimism and joy, because I know underneath our skin, we are all the same hue.”
The blend of blues, gospel, straight-ahead jazz and uniquely interpreted popular tunes are rendered with Schuur’s unique phrasing (i.e. “Let It Be,” also with a wonderful soprano solo from Watts). She included two from Mayfield, beginning with “Walking on a Tightrope,” where she sings the foretelling line, “the blues and I, we know each other.” She also does a song for these times (little did she know) in Mayfield’s “Danger Zone” – “the world is in an uproar and the danger zone is everywhere.” “Danger Zone” also has one of many emotive tenor solos from Watts. She nods to her heroes, Dinah Washington in “This Bitter Earth” with a piano trio, using stark piano chords to fill the space that usually has strings backing, She also invokes Ernestine Anderson who introduced her to the lyrics for Miles’ “All Blues” buoyed by Palmer’s flugelhorn.
Schuur leads the band in her swinging reading of Paul Simon’s “Something So Right,” her fondness for classic rock emerges in the title track, originally recorded by Eric Clapton, but like “Let It Be,” her introspective mood and the beautiful horns color Jeff Lynne’s “The Sun Will Shine on You,” a clear standout. Schuur reveals many aspects of her expressive voice, depending on the tune going from romantic to slightly naughty or bold at times within the same tune yet it all comes across warmly and sincerely.
She touches lots of bases too, nodding to Jaco Pastorius with her tight rhythm section on the full band vehicle “Chicken,” and rousing all with “Everybody Looks Good at the Starting Line,” which spotlights guitarist Rotella and blaring horns on the outro. She’s at her expressive best rendering Doc Pomus’ blues ballad “There’s Always One More Time.” Of course, a Carole King tune fits this repertoire and Schuur delivers a half-sung half-spoken declarative version of “Way Over Yonder,” displaying the full range of vocal prowess, abetted by another gutsy statement from Watts. Fittingly she closes alone for an instrumental piano “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”
Some of you may not have listened to Schuur before, given the gap between albums. Yet, it will come as no surprise after listening to this marvelous set, that she’s won two Grammys, fronted the Count Basie Orchestra, and recorded projects for Atlantic, Concord, and Vanguard. Schuur made her stage debut at age 10, was discovered by Stan Getz in 1979 and is by now a living legend. The proof is in many places, including right here.