By People Staff
September 25, 1995 12:00 PM

Kathleen Battle

Even a world-class operatic soprano like Kathleen Battle needs an occasional challenge. In this case, she has tried for a vocal stretch by hooking up with jazz players, including saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. and pianist Cyrus Chestnut, on an album of mostly nonclassical tunes. Together, Battle and her band bring an appropriate sense of childlike wonder to the lullaby “The Little Horses,” while the normally formal singer sounds surprisingly spirited on “Cancion De Cuna (Spanish Cradle Song)” and seductive on “Hush (Somebody’s Calling My Name)” and “Ninghe, Ninghe.”

Elsewhere, though, Battle, with her tendency toward ethereal lawlessness, misses the point. Her grand opera style—the way she strings words together without pausing between them, and her technique of singing as if she’s floating on air—produces a theatrical dramatic effect that may be well suited to Puccini arias but seems somewhat disconcerting in the free-form worlds of jazz, gospel and Latin pop, where earthiness, elasticity and spontaneity are essential. When Battle hooks up with, say, the bluesy, broken-down spiritual “Steal Away,” she just sounds like a dilettantish show-off who’s singing into a mirror backstage at the Met. (Sony Classical)