As a singer, Nina Sheldon takes lots of liberties with the melody. As a pianist, she often plays a spare, elliptical, linear style. As a veteran performer returning to the scene -- she was active in New York throughout the '70s and '80s -- she's a welcome purveyor of experience and originality, as "Harvest" (Jazzed Media) attests.
Bassist John Menagon and drummer Bob Meyer accompany Sheldon throughout this 10-song set, with the late tenor saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman joining in on two tunes. Because of the openness of her vocal and piano style, bass and drums become an organic part of the performances as opposed to timekeepers in the background.
On the opening "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" Sheldon hooks you immediately with her hurried, irregular vocal phrases answered by Menagon's bass. The performance builds through a quasi-scat sung second chorus with the trio, followed by a wry middle-register piano solo. "Baby, Baby All the Time" and "I'm Just a Lucky So and So" feature Newman's sly, insinuating tenor to good advantage behind the singer.
Sheldon's piano playing suggests Mose Allison, Jimmy Rowles, Paul Bley and Thelonious Monk but without imitating any of them. (Listen to her on "S'Wonderful.") There's also a less oblique piano component, as she reveals in a Bill Evans-tinged solo on "Detour Ahead." Her vocal here is a highlight of the album. Thrilling, indeed.