New York-based, British-born Tessa Souter is a jazz singer with interests far outside the jazz world. On Obsession
, Souter mostly shuns well-trodden standards and classic jazz fare in favor of a varied set of rock, pop and Brazilian tunes.
With her rich contralto and crystal-clear diction, Souter delivers lyrics with a theatrical, but never overdramatic, flair. Nothing sounds forced or hurried in her delivery; she's a relaxed, confident singer who succeeds at creating a romantic, vaguely tropical mood with apparent ease. And she knows how to get inside a song, even a familiar one, and make it her own. She treats The Beatles
' "Eleanor Rigby" plaintively without turning too morose and offers a sophisticated, reflective reading of the late British folk-rocker Nick Drake's "Riverman."
Many of the tunes have a Brazilian flavor, including a highly original reimagining of Cream's '60s hard-rock anthem "White Room," with an arrangement by guitarist Jason Ennis. The Brazilian theme continues on delightful versions of two songs by Milton Nascimento
, "Make This City Ours Tonight" and "Vera Cruz (Empty Faces)." Other highlights include a simple, yet soulful take on Mongo Santamaria
's "Afro Blue"; a moving rendition of Alex Nort's "Love Theme from Spartacus," with Souter backed only by guitar and bass and the singer's own "Usha's Wedding," an enchanting Middle-Eastern-inspired tune.
Backed by a small, spare ensemble led by Ennis' acoustic guitar, Victor Prieto
's accordion and Todd Reynolds' violin, Souter has made a deeply satisfying album of jazz and jazz-inflected music that should appeal to a wide audience.
Personnel: Tessa Souter: vocals; Jason Ennis: guitar; Gary Wang: bass; Conor Meehan: drums; Victor Prieto: accordion; Todd Reynolds: violin; Ansel Matthews: backing vocals.