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Lauren Henderson Quintet: ARMAME Album Release

If only everything made as much sense as the way Lauren Henderson's artistry reflects her bloodlines. Her father, who has African-American and Caribbean ancestry, and mother, the daughter of immigrants from Panama and Montserrat, are both lovers of jazz and Latin music.

Stirred together just so, the genes of Henderson's folks produced a singer and songwriter who is equally at home in jazz and Latin styles, using them as starting points to explore all kinds of other American and international sounds.

On her lovely new album, Ármame, which features the great young pianist Sullivan Fortner and, on two tracks, backup vocals by renowned drummer and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington, Henderson comes into her own as both vocalist and composer. Her cool sensuality and charming sense of control separates her from most singers. And who else is writing tunes like "Tanto Amor," a minimalist bolero of sorts that shows off her sultry side

Henderson wrote the words and music for two other songs--the affecting title track, which translates as "arm me" (as from a broken heart) and the playful rhythm number, "El Ritmo"--and added Spanish lyrics to a fourth tune.

One of Henderson's major influences, Shirley Horn, is represented by two midtempo winners from that master of restraint's songbook: Curtis Lewis's "The Great City," a onetime Nancy Wilson vehicle that Henderson personalized with Spanish lyrics, and Bart Howard's "Let Me Love You," which also was recorded by Johnny Hartman.

"I've always loved Shirley Horn's delivery," says Henderson. "She was so laid back, but she could be a little edgy and even sarcastic. There are a lot of layers to her singing."

The same can be said about Henderson, whose approach can change based on where she is performing. "Everyone has a different level of experience with Latin music," says the singer, who divides her time between New York and Miami. "In Miami, with its strong Cuban presence, I sing it very differently than I do in New York, where the cultural influence is so much broader. It's partly a matter of brightness versus darkness."

Her first album, Lauren Henderson (2011), which featured Fortner, included funky treatments of "Skylark" and "Born to Be Blue" among more traditionally rendered standards. Though everyone involved treated the recording as a demo--the songs were captured in one or two takes--the album ended up getting reviewed in major publications.

DownBeat touted Henderson as "an inviting singer whose low level dynamic draws the listener in." JazzTimes compared her to Peggy Lee, saying she appreciates "how to swing hard without swinging too hard."

Her 2015 followup effort, A La Madrugada ("At Dawn"), which she produced and arranged, featured an expansive cast of players (with Fortner tripling on piano, Rhodes, and organ) and seven original songs including the brassy, flamenco-heated title track and the sleek, smoothly grooving "Accede."

Richard Holland's "Better Days," the other song featuring Carrington (who played a major role in the arrangement of both tunes), is a nod to another of Henderson's favorite singers, Chaka Khan, who recorded it during her glory days with Rufus. It is widely regarded as one of the R&B legend's greatest jams. Henderson makes it her own with her wistful, close-to-the-vest performance.

Among the other covers, Henderson's tender treatment of Bobby Caldwell's "Open Your Eyes" is a sequel to her recording of Caldwell's frequently sampled late-'70s hit, "What You Won't Do for Love." Another Curtis Lewis song, "The Old Country," is a nod to her mother's favorite jazz singer, Nancy Wilson, who recorded it with Cannonball Adderley. Her mom's love of salsa dancing with her daughter figured in the inclusion of Latin great Hector Lavoe's "Todo Tiene Su Final."

As happily as her career in music is proceeding--her follow-up album, Protocol, is slated for an October 2018 release--Henderson is hardly taking things easily. Attuned to a different kind of numbers, she will soon enter Brown University to attain an MBA, with plans of becoming her own manager and expanding her work with her label, Brontosaurus Records.

But don't worry about her mother's influence stealing any thunder from her dad's. No matter how successful Lauren becomes on the business side of things, her love of jazz in all its colors and accents will always have the upper hand. *

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