How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Where do all of these remarkable new singers come from? For every Kurt Elling or Nnenna Freelon who captures the imagination of listeners through major-label promotion and sheer talent, dozens of other equally inspiring singers remain undiscovered, as might have Elling and Freelon but for the good fortune of their circumstances. It seems as if every time you turn around, another singer is recording a CD that reveals a distinctive voice expressing the feelings of a personality who sees things quite differently from any other singer. Even though the personalities within the universe are as diverse as the number of people those personalities inhabit, few singers seem to be able to discard influences and be themselves.
Zan Gardner is one of those singers who can absorb various influences, catalyze them and form an even newer sound that reminds the listener of other singers but that is entirely her own. Even though Gardner sings standards, she implies a Latin influence, even on "As Time Goes By," which builds upon a reggaed percussiveness and an African-influenced vibeliterally. Vibraphonist Tony Miceli adds to the glimmering light released by the tune with the instrument's luminescence. Another of Gardner's associations seems to be a Betty Carter-ish approach to singing "How High The Moon" as she develops her own elastic phrasing that pulls apart the song like taffy into the lengthened thoughts bundling the tune's musical elements.
On this, her first album, Gardner has chosen her musicians wisely.
John Swana retains his melodic approach to the instrument as he backs Gardner sensitively and knowingly on trumpet or flugelhorn, their techniques converging in a unity of purpose. Even his solos remain within the moment, the horn's voice an extension of Gardner's vocal set-up. On "The Way You Look Tonight," Swana finally lets fly with an energetic solo, as if he were freed to shape the tune himself. Plus, pianist Dave Posmontier proves himself an accompanist who listens to the singer and expands upon her suggestions. His enlightening solos, like Swana's, stay within the attitude of each song while he explores the songs' harmonic implications.
Yet, it's Gardner's voice that represents the discovery of Here's My Heart.... Making each song her own, Gardner combines a huskiness with an understanding of the songs' meanings, such as when she's "breathing innnnnnnn and breathing ouuuuuut" on "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face." Her articulation is effective as well, the word "to" sung with a hard attack on the "t" and her "oo's" containing slight moans. Even in the swing of "Exactly Like You," Gardner attains a sultriness and understated attractiveness in her alto interpretation that draws the listener's attention. She teases when she starts "You Don't Know What Love Is" in what seems to be an impossibly low key, leaving one to wonder where she can go from there if an even lower note presents itself in the arrangement.
With an unconventional style and an ever-present knowing grace, Zan Stewart has released an album that deserves a wide audience and a high degree of attention.
Track Listing: As Time Goes By, I've Grown Accustomed To His Face, Exactly Like You, You Don't Know What Love Is, Stolen Moments, How High The Moon, Metaphoric Heartbreak, The Way You Look Tonight; Some Other Time
Personnel: Zan Gardner, vocals; Dave Posmontier, piano; Chico Huff, bass; Steve Holloway, drums, percussion; John Swana, trumpet, flugelhorn, EVI; Tony Miceli, vibraphone