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One segment of Ken Burns’ marathon documentary “Jazz,” which aired last month, makes the case for strings. Specifically, the film suggests that “Charlie Parker with Strings” offers some of the bebop saxophone titan’s most remarkable and lasting recordings. Certainly, this opinion is not universally held. You don’t have to be a beret-wearing bop purist to believe that an average day of Bird in his natural habitat, with a small combo of like-minded performers, was better than a great day domesticated by the silky pillow of a symphony string section. But there has long been a place in jazz for strings, especially when it comes to vocalists. In this rundown of three recent releases by jazz vocalists, one — Dianne Reeves — has embraced the string tradition. Reeves makes heavy use of a 42-piece orchestra on “The Calling” (Blue Note), her tribute to Sarah Vaughan, who despite her immense talent and innovation is less known to the general public than Billie or Ella. Reeves’ remarkable voice has much of the maturity, power, and nuance that Vaughan displayed, and for this disc she chooses songs Vaughan recorded from the 1940s to her last date in 1987, from George Shearing’s staple “Lullaby of Birdland” to Brazilian tunes and the moody title tune from the 1948 Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall movie “Key Largo.” Though the string arrangements on “The Calling” are unorthodox enough to be interesting, to these ears they mostly dilute the impact of Reeves’ monumental pipes and the presence of first-rate accompanists including pianists Billy Childs and Mulgrew Miller. Exhibit A: The snappy blues tribute “I Remember Sarah,” which briefly drifts into an unnavigable blizzard of strings. Reeves hits Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center on April 22. Possessing all the right similarities with Reeves, Nnenna Freelon’s voice is powerful and wide-ranging with catlike agility. No material is beyond Freelon’s capabilities. The opening track on “Soulcall” (Concord), “Better Than Anything,” is an explosive, crazy rollercoaster ride where Freelon joyously reels off the lyrics while tenor saxophonist James Sandon answers her with matching abandon and fire. The rest of the disc is a bit spottier as it roams over a range of material and settings: quiet duos and trios on “Amazing Grace” and “Nearer My God to Thee,” a funky, acid jazz bump on “Button Up Your Overcoat,” and even the presence of a cappella singers Take 6 on a completely overhauled version of Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” Freelon deserves credit for her risk-taking arrangements, but despite several highs, the results are uneven. Freelon and Reeves may have a lot more raw talent and ambition than Stacey Kent, but Kent comfortably delivers a lovely, lightly swinging platter of oldies associated with Fred Astaire on last year’s “Let Yourself Go” (Candid). The British vocalist is not about to challenge any jazz conventions, but she knows what she likes and the right way to deliver it. Gershwin, Arlen, Mercer, the lords of Tin Pan Alley and American pop, reign as Kent’s relatively slight but stylin’ voice slides through the clever lyrics on “One For My Baby (And One More For the Road),” “A Fine Romance,” and other chestnuts. Her quintet runs as efficiently and unobtrusively as a Mercedes-Benz sedan. Kent’s main foil is tenor player Jim Tomlinson, a co-arranger of the tunes whose breathy, silky tenor is in the fine tradition of Lester Young and Stan Getz. Best of all, there are no strings attached.

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