Described once as an ice cream blond with a black coffee jazz voice," resplendent vocalist Barbara Montgomery announces the release of her most accomplished and spirited CD yet--Dakini Land, a 10-song collection centered on the evocative compositions of keyboard master Chick Corea. Produced by Montgomery along with her pianist and frequent collaborator, Barry Sames, Dakini Land features contributions from a host of stellar musicians, including trumpet-flugelhorn ace Terrell Stafford and violinist John Blake. Both Dakini Land and Montgomery's acclaimed 1999 album, Ask Me Now, are issued by the songstress's own recording label, Mr. Bean & Bumpy Music, Inc.
In the liner notes to Dakini Land Montgomery explains that the title of her new CD is taken from Tibet Buddhism, whose adherents believe in dakinis"--angel-like figures with protective and playful powers. My last album was reflective and quiet, and now it was time to lighten up," the vocalist remarked recently. Two years ago she'd found herself immersed in the music of Chick Corea, particularly the evocative title piece to his 1972 duet album with vibraphonist Gary Burton, Crystal Silence. That song prompted the idea of a tribute album. Montgomery then received Corea's blessing to use and re-arrange a generous selection of his compositions. Included were five songs with lyrics by Neville Potter along with Highwire, lyrics by Tony Cohen. Montgomery cast an additional four tunes to complete the album.
The magnificent results on Dakini Land are evident from the first bars of the album's opener, What Game Shall We Play Today. Together with session bassist par excellence Chico Huff and special guest Father John D'Amico on piano, Montgomery navigates the tricky melody with utter charm and confidence, setting the stge for one bravura performance after another. Similar uptempo numbers--Highwire, 500 Miles High (a smoking rendition fueled by Stafford and Bob Meashey on trumpets) and Miles to Go, one of three Montgomery-Sames originals that use Corea's rhythmic and melodic sensibilities as a springboard--reinforce the album's joyous, celebratory ambience.
The most irresistible element of Dakini Land, though, is Montgomery's winning vocals. Whether she's swinging her way through the propulsive grooves of The Reason Why/Porque, another original, or deliciously gracing ballads like Crystal Silence and Like a Lover, Montgomery proves on Dakini Land that she belongs in the top echelon of jazz singers and vocal interpreters at work today, able to color phrases with heart stopping sensuality and fluid virtuosity.
Although Montgomery has stated that she knew she was destined to be a singer by the age of five, the route to her glowing achievements on Dakini Land has been an interesting and circuitous one, to say the least. Born in Berkeley, California, she spent many of her childhood years living in what was then South Vietnam, where her father worked as a civilian engineer. She witnessed much of the chaos and insurrection of the war in Saigon. Later, Montgomery graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and sang in some of Philadelphia's jazz clubs while working in TV production, including the nationally syndicated The Mike Douglas Show.
She was often enthralled by such jazz luminaries as Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, and Tony Bennett who guested on the program. Montgomery's studio and stage savvy continued to grow, and eventually she became a highly-sought music producer, with clients like fitness maven Richard Simmons and entertainer Sandi Patty. All the while she found time and energy to home-school her son and daughter.
When Montgomery recorded her self-titled debut CD out on the West Coast several years ago, it signaled to the world at large that she was ready to focus on her musical gifts and artistry. With Ask Me Now and the just-released Dakini Land, Montgomery, once regarded as Philadelphia's best kept musical secret, can be thought of as a captivating chanteuse who certainly deserves all the praise and attention she receives--and more.