The voice with bass duo might have a small presence in the pantheon of classic jazz recordings but it has a high bar level. The duet settings that have paired Helen Merrill with Ron Carter and Sheila Jordan with Harvie Swartz are the most notable; it could be that those greats are four of the few who have been bold enough to accept this chamber ensemble challenge. It is now time to add another pair of names to this list, Canadian vocalist Rhonda Withnell and bassist Don Bradshaw have stepped up to the plate to offer their memorable take on this approach. Both of the voices that make up this duo are strong enough to swing, sway and swagger through the rockiest of terrain and tender and giving enough to make it all seem so easy. After all, who wants to listen to difficult music that sounds like it was all that difficult to play? Don Bradshaw is the quiet giant in this outing, a personal voice soft as a quiet country morning but possessed with a virtuosic control over the instrument that is frightening as a mid-winter bear, hungry for retribution. The bass is never suited to the meek, and Mr. Bradshaw's approach is anything but thanks to years of intense pursuit and onstage training with Bob Stroup's Edmonton-based groups of the late 80s and 90s--back in the days when one could still play jazz six nights a week with a large band, hosting guests and touring heavyweights the likes of no less than the great Charlie Rouse and John hicks to name but a couple. This great drive and swing is present in Don's Bass voice anytime, from experimental to straight ahead, the strings pulled hard, the intonation divine and the ideas fresh. It is of course this mastery of approach that makes it possible to walk confidently alongside of the great, quixotically light and somehow still smokey voice of Ms. Rhonda Withnell. Few singers out there possess the ability to go from Blossom Dearie to Aretha Franklin in a breath span, but here is one. Rhonda makes the playful more jubilant and brings longing to the sad, mournful if needed but never morose, campy if need be but never mocking. But this is what comes of a singer as inspired by Shirley Horn as by Leslie Feist. This openness to the entirety of a language is what makes or breaks modern performances, just how much is one willing to make their own out of the vastness of what is available? Apparently for this pair the answer is quite a lot thank you very much. This CD of nine varied, creative and confidently played tracks known as Once Was features a gorgeous bass tone. (It is sure to go down in the pantheon as a benchmark of production values if you care about such things.) And it is upon this bed of thickly transparent chording, walking, and grooving that Ms. Withnell spins her yarns: alternating between wordlessly breathy and lyrically sweet, always traversing smoothly and with joyful confidence over the chasms in between. The world should wish for more pairings like this one, performances that allow the completeness of the instrument to be heard, stripped down but somehow bigger for the exposure; like reveling in the majesty of a Baroque church spire that has been too long obscured by the flat facades of the city scape around it. Let the walls come down and revel in the splendor of Rhonda Withnell's voice and Don Bradshaw's double bass.