Critique: "Dawning and Daylight" (CD)
Leslie Connors
Jazz Times

“Dawning and Daylight” is the kind of album that should be released on vinyl. It has that Southern roots feel to it, offering a slice of Americana that most contemporary jazz recordings eschew. Smooth but not smooth jazz, “Dawning and Daylight” is an alternative to the cookie-cutter commercialism that has infected the genre for decades now. Charmin and Shapira cover well-worn jazz staples with the no-frills arrangements and bluesy undertow that immortalized them to begin with.

Vocalist Charmin Michelle and guitarist Joel Shapira make an attractive pair, and they seem to feed off one another. On “I Remember You,” Shapira’s slinky guitar weaves through the curves of Michelle’s steamy delivery. Michelle comes across like a female version of Nat King Cole; like Cole, there is an icy quality to her singing that stems from a profound heartache. On “Weep No More,” she is absolutely stunning, caressing the ears with tender, lovelorn singing as Shapira hypnotizes with a slow-hand groove.

The Latin kick of “Nica’s Dream” gives the album an infectious bounce. Dave Schmalenberger’s jumpy congas and Paul Harper’s high-spirited saxophone elevate the track’s already deliriously upbeat vibe. Virtually every musician on board is rewarded with a moment to shine. Tom Lewis’ sensuous bass on “You and the Night and the Music” accentuates the raw passion in Michelle’s voice. Shapira lays down a simmering jam, which he also does to similarly gripping effect on “Caravan.”

What is real or fake jazz is an argument for another time. The latter is subject to debate, often leading to violent discourse. The former, however, is much easier to identify and find agreement with others. “Dawning and Daylight” is real jazz; it is served straight up, in its purest form. For those who yearn for what jazz originally represented, that classic style and emotional pull, look no further than this loving, dazzlingly good achievement from Charmin and Shapira.

Feb. 9, 2011