AOM Logo November 1998

Mona Lisa

Densil Pinnock, vocals; Bill Coon, guitar

Verve ERCD 6671

Playing Time: 53:40

Michael McClennan

Mona Lisa Cover Image

Vocalist Densil Pinnock and guitarist Bill Coon almost stumped me. On first listening to Mona Lisa, I couldn't decide if I liked it or not. The first word that came to mind was pleasant, and over many listenings, it was the only word I could think of. But the more I listened, the more I felt something was missing.

Many influences are present in Pinnock's voice, the most obvious being that of Nat King Cole. Montréal-based Pinnock has chosen several numbers associated with the Cole trio; Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby, Mona Lisa, and When I Take My Sugar to Tea. However, the Cole influence goes too far. It is one thing to choose material from Cole's songbook, but in the absence of something unique, the material is mere imitation.

On the positive side, there is a personality to Pinnock's vocals that can be captivating. Listening to his diction, I could picture an animated face crafting each syllable deliberately to perfection, sleek and elegant. And though it is hard to find flaw in the sound of his voice, one feels that a little character would not go amiss.

The most unique track is the calypso Mama looks a Boo Boo. Pinnock adopts a Caribbean accent and Coon provides a sensitive accompaniment. When I Take My Sugar to Tea features a Pinnock solo on simulated trumpet. A neat effect, and, after 11 tracks of the same sound, was a nice change of timbre. Guitar overdubbing on Temptation contributed to a captivating arrangement - for me, the best track on the record.

From a musician's point of view, Bill Coon is a wonderful accompanist. He proves his facility on the instrument when required, but for the most part, is subtle in style and execution. The tunes that are arranged sound great, and the guitar parts are near-perfect for this setting.

As for the sound? Wonderful! Producer Mat Barber allows the intimacy of this duo to shine. The clarity of the sound is beautiful, allowing both performers to sparkle jewel-like.

After a great deal of thought, I finally decided what was missing from this disc - plain old heart-on-sleeve emotion. Pinnock doesn't get into the heart of the lyrics he sings. The Bergmans' lyric of You Must Believe in Spring has to be felt in the singer's soul - Pinnock seems incapable. He rushes through without thoughtfulness or poetry, a vocal exercise the shallow result. Compare the Tony Bennett/Bill Evans duo recording of this tune. In the hands of a true master, the lyric is mesmerizing. Pinnock's version is little more than time consuming.

As I listened to Mona Lisa, I found myself pulling out some Nat King Cole albums to make comparisons. And quite frankly, I left Nat's records on.

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