A Smart, Energetic, Purist Debut Album By Rising Star Jazz Singer Samara Joy
Samara Joy won the 2019 Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition and presumably got a debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – out of the deal. It’s not every day that a newcomer gets to record with an allstar veteran crew comprising guitarist Pasquale Grasso, bassist Ari Roland and drummer Kenny Washington, but she holds her own on this collection of standards, which was no doubt delayed by the lockdown.
What distinguishes this from the pile of audio resumes released every year – until last year, anyway – by aspiring lounge singers? Attention to emotional and musical detail, pure chops, and a diversity of moods beyond heartbreak and pining for affection. There’s a lot of energy on this record, which closes with Sophisticated Lady, an apt description for the singer.
The first notes you hear are Grasso’s elegantly serpentine upward cascade in a spare, intimate duo take of Stardust. Samara Joy distinguishes herself with a nuanced, uncluttered mezzo-soprano that reminds of Cecile McLorin Salvant‘s earliest work. The band give a jaunty bounce to Everything Happens to Me in contrast to the bandleader’s understated, rainy-day delivery, Roland bowing a solo that splits the difference between the two dynamics.
The take of If You Never Fall in Love With Me here is a boisterous doppelganger for Blossom Dearie’s Everything I’ve Got, Washington having fun adding some Brazilian flavor. They ought to retitle this version of Let’s Dream in the Moonlight as Let’s Take a Midnight Sprint: Grasso’s quicksilver legato is breathtaking. Then they slow down, returning to the sparkly/serious dichotomy for It Only Happens Once; Samara Joy teases with her spline-tinglinig upper register rather than going for broke this time out.
Jim – the song – has not aged well. Passive-aggressive, emotionally withholding dudes are not worth holding onto. Homegirls, are you listening?
The coy interplay between guitar and vocals in a briskly swinging version of The Trouble With Me Is You is a welcome touch. The group waltz elegantly through If You’d Stay the Way I Dream About You, then pick up the pace a smidge with a moody 6/8 take of Lover Man.
Samara Joy works the trajectory from angst to guarded ecstasy with a visceral intensity in Only a Moment Ago as the bass and guitar intertwine. Her plush, swinging take of Moonglow gives Grasso a launching pad for lots of sparkle and spirals. And Grasso caps off the duo version of But Beautiful with a characteristically crystalline, purposeful solo.