Friday, November 3, 2017

Jazz Vocal CD of the Month - "Sylvia Brooks: The Arrangement"

Vocal CD of the Month
Sylvia Brooks: "The Arrangement" 
Rating: ***** (musical performance & sonic quality)

Produced by Sylvia Brooks & Jerald Bergh
Co-Produced, Mixed & Mastered by Carlos Y. Del Rosario
Photos: Antoine Reekmans
Package Design: Doug Haverty (Art + Soul Design)
Liner Notes: Andrew Gilbert

Arranged by Christian Jacob, Quinn Johnson, Jeff Colella, Otmaro Ruiz
Featuring: Sylvia Broks (vocals), Christian Jacob (piano, Fender Rhodes), Otmaro Ruiz, Jeff Colella and Quinn Johnson (piano), Trey Henry and Chris Colangelo (bass), Tom Brechtlein, Kendall Ray, Jamey Tate, Aaron Serfaty (drums), Larry Koonse and Will Brahm (guitar), Ron Stout (flugelhorn), Bruce Babad (flute), Brian Swartz and Michael Stever (trumpet), Francisco Torres (trombone), Kim Richmond (alto sax), Bob Sheppard (tenor sax) et al.

From Jazz Noir to Technicolor, jazz vocalist Sylvia Brooks reveals a vivid array of new emotional hues on her third album, "The Arrangement," a beautifully intimate collaboration with the talents of brilliant Los Angeles arrangers.

Besides beautiful originals ("Maybe I'm A Fool," "Sweet Surrender," "What Was I Thinking," three inspired songs to which she contributed as lyricist), Brooks offers surprising renditions of "Body And Soul" (with a beautiful flugel solo by Ron Stout) and "Cold Cold Heart", along with haunting versions of such glorious ballads as "Never Me Let Me Go" and "Angel Eyes," two of my favourite songs.

Although her own woman, Brooks' crystal-clear tone and phrasing evokes me memories of one of my dearest vocalists, the extremely underrated Jackie Cain from the Jackie & Roy duo. So, don't expect scat singing acrobatics, but soulful performances delivered with passion and drama.

With her first two critically acclaimed albums ("Dangerous Liaisons" and "Restless"), jazz vocalist Brooks introduced a sensuous jazz-noir sound redolent of femme fatales and tough guys, crooked deals and deep-shadowed urban nightscapes. But no great artist wants to be typecast, and with her third CD, "The Arrangement," she steps out of the mist and fog into the sunlight, where she reveals herself as a singer at home in just about any narrative.

Brooks chose to connect with a superlative collection of arrangers for her third CD starting with arranger/composer/saxophone Kim Richmond, who also collaborated on her first two album; Venezuelan-born pianist Otmaro Ruiz (Dianne Reeves and Akira Jimbo); pianist Jeff Colella (Lou Rawls); French-born pianist Christian Jacob (Tierney Sutton, Betty Buckley); and pianist Quinn Johnson (Steve Tyrell, Diana Ross).

When an artist succeeds in a particular niche she always faces pressure to repeat the performance, but Brooks had no intention of limiting herself. “I wanted to explore different musical styles,” she says. “I love Latin influenced music, big band swing, and rich ballads. I want to explore the whole spectrum musically.” With a sumptuous velvet-rich voice and emotionally incisive phrasing, Brooks is far too protean a talent to be confined to any particular plotline. In creating The Arrangement, she didn’t just set out to investigate different moods and rhythms. She invited a dazzling cast of writers to craft bespoke charts tailored stylishly for her voice, while giving them casting carte blanche, an act of trust that led to a project marked by a glorious diversity of settings.

Brooks choose the songs, and gave the arrangers two directives. They had to use a combination of brass and reeds, and they could choose the musicians they felt would best serve the direction of the piece, “so it was a real collaboration,” Brooks says. “I wanted them to have complete freedom.”

The album opens with Ruiz’s lush setting for “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps (Quizas, Quizas, Quizas),” an intoxicating piece that connects Brooks to the Cuban music she heard growing up in Miami. He provides Brooks with another sleek and sensuous Latin vehicle on the oft-interpreted standard “Besame Mucho,” which she delivers as a passionate fever dream accelerated by a simmer tenor sax solo by the reed master Bob Sheppard.

Brooks takes an unexpected left turn as Johnson’s brassy, briskly swinging arrangement transforms Hank Williams’ classic country lament “Cold Cold Heart.” He also proved to be an ideal songwriting collaborator for Brooks, who contributes original lyrics to three beautifully wrought pieces, starting with their slyly funky anthem about mistaken first impressions “What Was I Thinking (The Mirage).” She teamed with the multi award-winning composer Patrick Williams on “Maybe I’m A Fool,” a lovely portrait of romantic self-doubt arranged with rollercoaster energy by Johnson.

Jacob, who wrote the widely hailed score for Clint Eastwood’s 2016 film Sully, collaborated with Brooks on one of the album’s most arrestingly beautiful pieces, “Sweet Surrender,” an intimate piano and voice duet with a graceful melody that needs no embellishments. Another standout track is Jacob’s quietly dramatic setting of Lennon and McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby,” a rendition as effective and unforgettable as a jazz vehicle (listen to the deft interplay of Jacob’s Fender Rhodes chords and Larry Koonse’s guitar) that one can only marvel at her ingenuity.

Clearly undaunted by legendary artists, Brooks puts her personal stamp on “Guess Who I Saw Today,” the forlorn narrative indelibly linked to Nancy Wilson. She closes the album with an unforgettable version of “Angel Eyes,” a haunting Richmond arrangement that links back to Brooks earlier jazz-noir albums. She’s still a riveting raconteur when it comes to tales of loss and heartbreak, but she’s got a lot of other stories to tell on "The Arrangement."

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