A pair of pivotal albums from British singer Cleo Laine – both of which really have her finding her own groove! If We Lived On Top
Of A Mountain is a set that's still got a fair bit of jazz in the mix, but which also has Cleo Laine using that wonderfully deep voice of hers to step into some cool, sophisticated territory of her own! Even the older tunes get this unusual vibe in the hands of arrangers Les Reed and Johnny Dankworth – and Dankworth gets to solo a bit on the record on alto, alongside Tony Coe on tenor, Laurie Holloway on piano, and Derek Watkins on trumpet. Laine's always in the spotlight, though – and this hip late 60s setting really brings on the best in her vocals – on titles that include the sublime title cut "If We Lived On The Side Of A Mountain", plus "Remind Me", "Song Without Words", "Sure As You're Born", and "Who Walks In When I Walk Out". Portrait is one of the groovier sides ever recorded by Cleo Laine – at one level an album that features some of her older approaches to American standards, but at another a record that's showing some key touches of the changes going on in British jazz at the time! The rhythms are much more pronounced than before – leaping around with some great jazzy changes on the best numbers, in a way that makes for inventive arrangements that really transform the tunes – and which seem to allow Cleo's weirdly floating style of singing to resonate more with the hipper, younger generation of jazz vocalists showing up on the European scene. Backings are by John Dankworth, and the album's got a great original called "Bossa Palma Nova", a wicked take on "Feeling Good", an unusual Mike Gibbs number called "Model Cities Programme", a fuzzy guitar take on James Taylor's "Night Owl", and a nicely trippy version of "Aquarius". But even the standards sound nice too – and they include "That Certain Feeling", "I Could Write A Book", and "The Look Of Love".