Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Tessa Souter’s Beyond the Blue Is Beyond Fun

Tessa Souter is best known as a jazz singer, but she’s also a tremendously compelling composer, with a blend of torchy bluesiness and neoromanticism that often goes deep into noir. Even now, vocal jazz still borrows disproportionately from the past, so Souter’s reliance on her own material immediately sets her apart. That, and her minutely jeweled soprano. Clear, nuanced and glistening, Souter employs it eclectically, shifting in a split-second from misty lustre to moody resonance to neon-lit exuberance, depending on where the lyrics go. Wherever that is, that’s where she is, always with a torch, illuminating everything that comes her way. She also has a subtly quirky sense of humor that reminds of Blossom Dearie in places. She’s at Dizzy’s Club on April 10 at 7:30 and 9:30, leading a quartet with Christian Tamburr on vibraphone, Keita Ogawa on percussion and Boris Kozlov on bass. No doubt they will be playing material from Souter’s excellent new album Beyond the Blue, which is streaming all the way through at her Bandcamp page.

Souter works all the angles on the opening track, Prelude to the Sun, considering every line, from steamy, to shiny, smiling glimmer, Joe Locke’s vibraphone handing off gracefully to Joel Frahm’s alto sax, Billy Drummond adding richly glistening tones on his hardware. She shifts gracefully from boudoir sultriness to unrestrained joy in the absolutely lurid The Lamp Is Low, a richly noir clave tune lowlit by Locke’s marvelously suspenseful lines that Frahm takes even deeper into the shadows. The seductive Dance with Me plays off Steve Kuhn’s hypnotically minimalist pedalpoint piano in the same vein as Jenifer Jackson’s more jazz-oriented material.

Chiaroscuro sets Souter’s silky sostenuto over terse neoromantic piano that updates the Albinoni original by a couple of centuries, Frahm’s richly blues-infused alto adding a casual apprehension.  The most trad tunes here are Darkness of Your Eyes (a Ravel remake) and My Reverie, both nonchalant swing numbers that look back to Ellington and Strayhorn in the 30s – neither would be out of place in the Catherine Russell repertoire. En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor offers a lush, otherworlly take on the famous Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo, as lustrous if considerably more stripped-down than the Gil Evans arrangement, David Fink’s echoey, swooping bowed bass contrasting with Locke’s reflecting-pool ambience.

Sunrise mines a subtle early dawn atmosphere, Souter’s gentle vocals over Drummond’s meticulous, marvelous whisperiness as it grows into a jazz waltz. Souter’s cover of Baubles, Bangles and Beads gets a cheerfully sleek treatment, Locke and Kuhn teaming up for an intertwining glimmer as it crescendos out. The title track is a totally noir jazz remake of the Chopin E Minor Prelude, Souter’s distant ache a sort of female counterpart to late 50s Sinatra suicide saloon songcraft.

Noa’s Dream remakes a Schubert serenade as a jazz waltz, Frahm’s precision setting the stage for Locke’s swinging red-neon lyricism. The album winds up hauntingly with Brand New Day, blending slinky clave and French musette, Gary Versace’s jaunty accordion paired up with the vibraphone over a dancing rhythm section. So many vocal jazz albums put the band in the background: this is assuredly not one of them. That this would be a treat to hear purely as instrumentals attests to the intelligence and passion of the songcraft and musicianship; Souter’s voice is the icing on the cake.

April 4, 2013 - Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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