Coco Zhao: Dream Situation (2006)
Out of a small town called Shao Yang in the Hunan province of China comes the exotic Dream Situation, by jazz vocalist Coco Zhao. Zhao's parents specialized in traditional Chinese opera, and his own background was based on Western classical music. His journey into jazz took flight around 1995 in various clubs in Shanghai, where he garnered acclaim.
In many ways Zhao challenges the stereotypical jazz vocalist image (dated love songs crooned in smoke-filled rooms) with music steeped in a unique heritage and infused with his own youthful interpretations. Though he sings the lyrics in Chinese (translated into English in the liner notes), Zhao's distinctive singing transcends cultures and is perfectly matched by an excellent band called Possicobilities. The recording succeeds in cross-pollinating Asian vocals and contemporary American jazz idioms.
These resounding performances include memorable work by arranger and violinist Peng Fei; the music soars in both altitude and attitude on songs like "Full Moon, Blossoming Flowers," with a depth filled with emotion and life. The musicians' astute education of jazz is clear as they work with Zhao's enticing voice on a variety of styles, from the metro-hip "Unavailable Love" to the Latin bossa-nova ballad "Yearning."
The swinging "I Want Your Love" seems to be thrown in for good measure, but tunes like "If Without You" are where the band's luster displays its warmest glow, making use of transient syncopations to accompany Zhao's poetic lines. The recording concludes with the captivating piano vocal duo "Three," whose translated lyrics include the following verse:
The sky made a wow to mother earth.
A meteor thereby streaked
across the sky
and went through the dream...
Dream Situation, one of this year's true gems, sets itself apart from the typical jazz vocal recording.
Track Listing: Full Moon, Blowing Flowers; I hava a Tale; Unvailable Love; Yearning; I want you Love; Dream Situation; Waiting; If without You; Three Years.
Personnel: Coco Zhao: vocals; Peng Fei: clavier, keyboard, violin; Huang Jianyi: piano; E.J. Parker: bass; Chris Trzinski: drums.