'S Wonderful
Ron Barber / Francie Zucco

by Jason Hoffman 'S Wonderful
Zucco is back with her latest album, ‘S Wonderful. This time out she teamed up with the uber-talented Ron Barber who not only arranged each of the 12 jazz standards but plays piano, bass and guitar. As the two turned to Sweetwater Studios to record and mix their album, listeners can be assured of top-notch production equal to their masterful performances.

As on her past albums, I was impressed from the very start. The romantic and carefree “Meditation” is the perfect song to fall in love by. Not only were the vocals strong yet gentle and the flute solo by Rick Brown beautiful and apt, but the backing strings were startlingly clear. A quick check of the liner notes revealed that in place of the usual keyboard strings, Zucco and Barber opted for the real thing, enlisting an eight-piece string section in the form of The Sweetwater Strings. Whereas a sampled string part could have serviced the role, going this extra step shows the lengths the pair have gone through to capture just the right feel for their music. While they may only appear on half the tracks, each appearance is a lush breath of fresh air, be it the light-as-a-cloud wisps on “But Beautiful” or the classic 40s cinema sound of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkely Square.”

The majority of the selections, including the title track written by the Gershwin brothers, are love songs that float along at their own lost-in-romantic-thought pace. These give plenty of space for Zucco to passionately embrace her lyrics or for Barber to wistfully weave nostalgic melodies on the piano while still leaving room for tasteful piano solos, flute solos and, compliments of Dave Sapp, more than one lovingly crafted flugelhorn solo. As you would expect from such seasoned professionals, none of these musical outings call attention to themselves but rather serve the song as a whole.

Whether it’s the gentle humor of “Everything Happens To Me,” the fun and energetic “I Could Write A Book” or the upbeat, hopping “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” Francie Zucco and her carefully selected cast of supporting musicians are in top form, gracefully handling a variety of standards with aplomb. Whether you have been a longtime listener of light jazz or are looking for a good place to start, ‘S Wonderful truly is wonderful. Available at Borders and area Wooden Nickel stores.

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