Review of Straight Up Sassafras:
Lanah Koelle is a promising jazz singer who makes her recording debut on her recent Straight Up Sassafras. She studied voice and theatre, has performed in many musical plays, and has been singing jazz in the Washington DC area since 2013.
On this CD, Ms. Koelle sings 11 of her favorite standards with an excellent trio consisting of pianist Wayne Wilentz, bassist David Jernigan (who occasionally doubles on guitar) and drummer Keith Butler Jr. The singer displays an appealing voice, swings well at each tempo, and really gets into the words that she interprets. Her enthusiasm is infectious (she obviously loves to sing) and her subtle improvising consistently uplifts the material. Her tone is reminiscent of the classic jazz singers from the 1935-65 period but, rather than copy her predecessors, she has her own individual sound and is creative within the vintage style.
While some of the songs, such as “Close Your Eyes,” “Ill Wind” and “Get Out Of Town,” are often performed by many of today’s standard singers, Lanah Koelle also includes some less common tunes including “Basin Street Blues” (which is rarely performed outside of a New Orleans jazz setting), Fats Waller’s “I’m Crazy About My Baby” and “Why Do I Love You” (from Showboat). Among the highlights are her friendly voice on “Exactly Like You,” a relaxed treatment of “Why Do I Love You” (which features some excellent guitar playing by Jernigan), the Latin feel given to “Close Your Eyes” and “Change Partners,” the passionate feeling that she puts into “Get Out Of Town,” and the always fun Cole Porter song “Let’s Misbehave.”
Straight Up Sassafras is an excellent debut for Lanah Koelle and makes for a fun listen.
– Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author of 11 books including The Jazz Singers and Jazz On Record 1917-76