BARBRA STREISAND: Love Is The Answer (Label: Columbia)

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Ordinarily, a Barbra Streisand album wouldn’t get the merest hint of a mention on this website – as her music falls well outside of the site’s soul, jazz and funk remit – but the fact that the 67-year-old Brooklyn-born singer/actress/film director and political activist has teamed up with Canadian jazz chanteuse, Diana Krall, to cut an album of standards merits our attention. In truth, though, ‘Love Is the Answer’ isn’t really a jazz album in the strictest sense despite Krall’s input as pianist, arranger and producer – that’s because the essence of jazz is all about improvisation and in the main this album has been knowingly calculated down to the very last note (barring an occasional extemporised piano solo perhaps). Nothing here is left to chance – everything, every detail, every nuance, is geared to highlight and emphasise Streisand’s incomparable voice. And although she’s 67 now, Streisand’s voice is still a thing of great beauty; its luminosity and richness counterpointed by some wonderfully atmospheric string charts by veteran arranger/songwriter Johnny Mandel (interestingly, Streisand puts her own inimitable stamp on two Mandel co-penned songs – ‘Where Do You Start’ and ‘A Time For Love’). In terms of musical highlights, it would be churlish, perhaps, to pick out one song at the expense of another as all the material interlocks as a coherent whole and convincingly creates a mood of reflective nocturnal reverie. However, if one stands out above the rest, it has to be the moody opener, ‘Here’s To Life,’ which Streisand – like any great performer – remakes in her own image and personality. It’s as if the song was written especially for her. The same can be said for her interpretations of ‘In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning’ – though Sinatra aficionados might disagree – ‘If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas)’ (a Jacques Brel-written song associated with Nina Simone), ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,’ the bossa nova-infused ‘Gentle Rain’ and ‘Some Other Time’ – the latter taken from the musical ‘On The Town,’ reflecting, perhaps, Streisand’s Broadway roots. All the songs are taken at a slow pace and while for some listeners, perhaps, more variety – in terms of mood and tempo – might be preferable, there’s no denying that ‘Love Is The Answer’ is extremely successful at conveying romantic intimacy. Streisand fans, of course, will snap up the album in spite of the album’s jazz-inflected musical content and there’s a chance, too, that some jazz fans – at least those interested in jazz vocalists – will want to investigate it due to Krall’s influential presence. As well as the standard single CD version of this album, also available is a 2-CD deluxe version, which includes a bonus disc featuring the songs minus Johnny Mandel’s lush arrangements.
(CW) 4/5