Philadelphia singer/lyricist Suzanne Cloud has come up with a lively alternative to the usual jazz vocal mixture of done-to-death standards and interminable scat solos. On With a Little Help From My Friends, she slyly, often sarcastically, addresses a number of contemporary issues—tourism-industry exploitation of the Third World (“Bolivia,” composed by pianist Cedar Walton); the prosthetic quest for eternal youth (“Collagen Lips”); broadcast demagoguery (“Talk Radio”); and the corruption of American politics (“Below the Beltway,” which features snippets of speeches by Newt, Gramm, Rush, Dole, et al.). She wittily trashes a vapid jazz-lite icon (“Hey Kenny, Gee”) and celebrates the real thing (“…A Lullaby, Dear Monk”). To demonstrate her mainstream credentials, she renovates three standards: a rollicking voice/bass/drums treatment of “I’m All Smiles”; a smooth reading of Steve Allen’s ballad “Impossible”; and a bluesy voice-and-guitar interpretation of the Lennon/McCartney title tune. The collection ends on an optimistic note with “Watch the Skies,” a sci-fi fantasy, and McCoy Tyner’s “For Tomorrow,” a celebration of life’s possibilities. Backed by drummer-producer Jim Miller and a supporting ensemble of 20 Philadelphia musicians, including pianist Eddie Green and bassist Gerald Veasley, Cloud proves here, as on her debut album a decade ago, that she’s one of jazz’s best-kept secrets, a full-voiced, rhythmically assured singer equally sensitive to the musical and lyrical content of her repertoire. This smart, innovative CD, as yet unavailable locally, can be obtained by sending $15.98 to Encounter Records, P.O. Box 8132, Philadelphia, PA 19101.

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