Shirley Horn on Resonance Records
The gig took place soon after her revival, with a hit album on the Verve label, after a couple decades of self-exiled obscurity, raising a family in Washington, DC, and playing now and then in local clubs, to the joy of patrons who snorted that the know-it-alls up in New York didn't know what they were missing. I was one of those patrons, and got to know the queen of ballads fairly well.
In other words, Shirley Horn was getting famous, but she hadn't yet reached stardom, wasn't yet basking in quite the regal pose that she later adopted as her just desserts in life. She was singing her ballads slow but not yet s-s-l-lo-ohhh, as she did in later years. (She died in 2005 at the age of 71.) She never stopped swinging, but she was doing more of it in 1988. There are a couple of tracks where she doesn't sing, she just plays the piano, backed by her trio (and she was an excellent, vibrant pianist in the Ahmad Jamal tradition, heaving block chords, shimmering with slightly off-centered harmonies and color notes), something she often did at concert but rarely on albums.
In other words, she was having more undisguised fun, and Live at the 4 Queens is worth the cost of admission just for the few seconds near the start of the album's first song, when she sings, with a strained longing, "You'd Be So / Nice / to Come Home to," then lets out a husky, sexy chuckle.
Horn was always one of the few great jazz singers who paid close attention to the lyrics of a song. At her most enchanting, she made them seem spontaneous, as if they were telling the story of her life.
Her band was fairly new at this point. Charles Ables, who later did little more than pluck the tonic of whatever chord Horn was playing (that's all she wanted from a bass player), steps out a bit more inventively here. Steve Williams, who could later coax the essence of romance in 4/4 time on the drums, is still growing at this stage, though he's caught the spirit with gusto.
The concert, part of a Monday night jazz series at the hotel back then, was recorded by the local public-radio station, and the sound is quite good: a big, miked sound that captures the dynamics and colors and skillfully keeps the casino noise all but inaudible.
As with other Resonance releases, it comes with a thick booklet with nice photos and truly informative, well-written essays, in this case about Horn, her band, her career, and the Washington, DC jazz scene of the time.