Italian vocalist Andrea Balducci is so earnestly hip and so perfectly coiffed (he is a lawyer, after all) he is almost a metaphor: a talented metaphor. His debut recording, Bloom is equally hip and coiffed as the singer himself. With a keen ear for the edge of nostalgia, Balducci assembles a repertoire from 1960s American popular music. The heady brief Balducci prepares for us is one almost too slick to be real or serious, but he stops well before the edge of maudlin pathos.
Balducci dispatches the Little Anthony and the Imperials/Linda Ronstadt "Hurt So Bad," the Box Tops/Joe Cocker "The Letter," and the Mickey Newbury/First Edition "I Just Dropped In" with a slick confidence and competent aplomb that is both entertaining and endearing. Balducci employs a medium-sized band anchored by pianist Luca Mannutza whose Fender Rhodes adds just enough '70s sepia to the sound to make the music sound comfortable and familiar while giving the songs a modern, contemporary shine. Balducci's lightly-accented English adds a most appealing dimension to his performances. He retains some European phrasing that enhances his delivery. This is pretty good stuff.
The Classics IV/Dusty Springfield/Atlanta Rhythm Section's "Spooky" is given an elaborate arrangement surrounding Jukka Ekola's tart open bell cushioned by Mannutza's funky Rhodes. Balducci's treatment of Marvin Jenkin's "Big City" is rush hour urban sexy, accented by Timo Lassy
's tenor saxophone. The one dyed-in-the-wool standard, "Everytime We Say Goodby" demonstrates that Balducci can turn a ballad admirably. Bloom is a fine and fun first outing. I hope Balducci says out of court.
The contemporary (meaning "current") male jazz vocalist approaches the hypothetical when compared to his female counterpart. Based simply on what crosses this desk weekly one could believe that the only male "jazz" vocalist are board professionals (dentists, lawyers and the like) making vanity recordings. Where are male counterparts for Cassandra Wilson
don't count because they are Frank Sinatra altar boys (though Connick has that undeniable Southern thing going on). Michael Buble? He is not a jazz singer, though, to be fair, he was heavily influenced by Bing Crosby
for that matter, jazz vocalists? Bennett more than Sinatra, but both are masters of the popular song when than term really meant something and were not "technically" jazz singers.
Like anything else, what we consider jazz vocals today is the product of an evolution of some earlier designation. Bennett's longevity has allowed him to develop into more of a jazz singer than Sinatra did. Bennett has risen to that point where, like Ray Charles
, he can sing whatever he wants, however he wants and it is still perfection. That said, as an imperfect segue, who has Bennett fostered in the influence department?
That brings us to Paul Jost, who in a joyous and rollicking "Singing in the Rain" takes Bennett's ebullient and robust delivery and turns it on its ear. And then he scats... doubletime. Jost invests in the freedom principle just enough to freshen things up, ending the piece with an electric piano solo and chuckled, "Ah, George..." foreshadowing an equally outside-the-box "I've Got Rhythm." Jost's talent, like that of Beat Kaestli
's flute flies around like a demented magpie throwing off notes like pixie dust. He, rocks the Ashford/Simpson classic "I Don't Need No Doctor," acoustically allegro con brio. Breaking Through is a solid statement by an equally solid artist deserving more attention.
This edition of Jazz Vocals is bookended by Italians. Chiara Izzi blasts out of Europe's boot with several prestigious competitions under her belt that include, the Voicingers 2012 (Poland) and the Italian contests, Lucca Jazz Donna 2010, Chicco Bettinardi 2010, and Barga Jazz 2009. Motifs is her debut recording and immediately reveals a study, lightly-accented voice with a well-scrubbed sensual vitality that is fresh and crisp.
Motifs is a perfect compromise between Balducci's Bloom and Jost's Breaking Through. She sings with quaintly accented English, quite attractive, like Balducci and employs edgy arrangements with a full-bore vocal delivery like Jost (to be sure, her Italian singing is intoxicating: "Travessia" and "Il Pescatore"). Izzi's cover "I Get a Kick Out of You" is uber-sexy and playful, while her original "Another Day" is perfect post bop singing. Backed by the standard piano trio, propelled by drummer Gino del Prete, Izzi joins as a force of nature with prodigious scat chops.
Izzi closes the disc with Quincy Jones' "Stockholm Sweetnin'" and Jimmy Van Heusen's "Deep in a Dream." Her singing and scatting on the former are so translucent, the cut benefits from multiple listenings to fully digest. "Deep in a Dream" is transformed into a cabaret ballad. Andrea Rea's piano acts as the perfect stimulus for Izzi, who has made a most interesting and entertaining debut with Motifs.