Belle gives stellar, vibrant readings of the Broadway tunes "Lazy Afternoon" and "If I Ruled The World," breathes new life into the standards "Fly Me To The Moon" and "The Man I Love," and shares cautionary tales in her own inspirational composition "There's A Love." On the Brazilian gem "Corcovado," she caresses the English lyrics and whispers seductively in Portuguese, while an unrehearsed moment reminiscing with background singers the Perry Sisters in the studio becomes a breathless, off-the-cuff performance of Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes' "The Love I Lost" and the Isley Brothers' "For The Love Of You." On this unique and challenging mix of material, Belle gives free reign to her glorious, jazz and gospel-infused voice, making each of the album's twelve tracks her very own.
Listening to Lazy Afternoon will seem to some like a private, up-close-and-personal performance by the New Jersey-bred singer, who chose the Broadway and standards material--including the title track-- because of its association with Tony Bennett, one of Belle's favorite vocalists. "I've always loved Tony Bennett down through the years -- really, really loved. I mean, his voice quality, his power, all the soul that goes into whatever it is he sings, he has just a dynamic voice," enthuses Belle, who also counts Nancy Wilson. Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday among her inspirations. When she shared her love of Bennett's music with the head of Peak Records, the idea for the new set was born.
Peak president Andi Howard says the timing was right for Belle to record a jazz-flavored album after the R&B-leaning, Grammy-nominated release This Is Regina in 2002. Said Howard, "In her live show, Regina always has a very jazzy type of element, so when it came to making the next record we said, 'Let's do something different, let's do something that shows a side of you that your concert-going audience has seen but maybe your record-buying audience has not heard.' At a time when everybody is talking about doing these standards records and jazz records, this is perfect for her."
Belle gives much of the credit for the album's brilliance to producer Duke, who played keyboards, arranged the tunes, and assembled a top-notch cast of supporting musicians for the set, including bassists Christian McBride and Alex Al, guitarists Ray "The Weeper" Fuller and Dean Parks, saxophonist Everette Harp, trumpeter Oscar Brashear, percussionist Lenny Castro, and drummer Gordon Campbell.
Though she had never worked with him before, Belle specifically asked for Duke to produce Lazy Afternoon. "I call him a living legend, and he's very shy about that, but he has the best of both worlds. He's a jazz great and he turns around and he's an R&B master," she explains of the man whose studio magic has graced albums for Rachelle Ferrell, Anita Baker, and Dianne Reeves. Belle admits that while she loves jazz, performing in that idiom still makes her nervous about being respectful of the genre and its legendary artists. But Duke instantly put her at ease. "George made it fit my body, he made it fit my voice, he made it fit my throat, and all that entails. He made it easy for me so we can look at something and say, yes, this is definitely Regina," she says.
Duke was equally impressed with Belle's work. "Regina is amazing! The passion she delivered on each song is undeniable," says the producer, who has worked with the best contemporary vocalists in the R&B and jazz spheres. He adds, "Working with her in the studio was not like working at all, and this relaxed atmosphere was transferred to the music. In short Regina is, in every sense of the word, a pro."
This new recording is yet another triumph in Belle's two-decade career. Always bringing a strong jazz sensibility to her R&B/pop recordings, Belle burst onto the scene with the jazzy single "So Many Tears" in 1987. She later climbed the charts with hits like "Baby Come To Me" and "Make It Like It Was," and earned a Grammy for her 1993 duet with Peabo Bryson, "A Whole New World," from the Disney film "Aladdin." Belle has taken her time to craft a project that truly reflects who she is as an artist.
While continuing to perfect her songcraft, Belle has also built a happy home life in suburban Atlanta with her husband, former NBA player John Battle, and four of her five children. (Her oldest daughter is grown with a family of her own.) She and Battle also contribute to the community, having formed Feed The Homeless together with her mother and the family pastor. The organization has been providing meals to Atlanta's homeless population for the last eight years.
With her down-to-earth personality grounded by faith, family, and fellowship, Belle hopes that fans will relate to the very personal vibe of Lazy Afternoon. "I think when they hear it they'll say, 'We always knew she was going to do this,'" she says. "I really think if they listen, they'll be able to feel what it is I was feeling when I was in the studio with these cats. The goal was to really combine the R&B and jazz stuff, just mesh it together and make it work. I'm hoping they'll be appreciative of my efforts."