Emma Larsson: Let It Go (2010)
Among the many sub-genres of jazz, none is more congested than that of female vocalists. So clotted is this particular marketplace that it is almost impossible to separate the signal (exceptional releases) from the noise (everything else). There are precious few ways for an artist to set herself apart from the merely good vocalists as a truly great one. Standards collections are no vehicle. Anyone and everyone can release a disc of standards. Only the very best singers can draw attention to themselves with the jazz canon, like Roberta Gambarini on So In Love (Decca, 2009). The same is true for vocalists covering very specific terrain, like Connie Evingson on Little Did I Dream: Songs by Dave Frishberg (Minnehaha Music, 2008) or Karrin Allyson on Ballads: Remembering John Coltrane (Concord, 2001).
Vocalists who compose their own music are a breakthrough possibility, but only if they are competent songwriters. Releases by such will appeal to those who are tired of "one more standards set" and are interested in something new; something that takes chances. These vocalists can choose to write in an established idiom or push the boundaries of vocal jazz. This latter approach is what Finnish vocalist/composer Emma Larsson takes on the follow-up to her 2006 recording Irie Butterlies (Imogena Records). Larsson's composing style is firmly in the John Coltrane spiritual realm, teeming with complex time signatures and flowing, almost free form, vocal lines. She employs the classic saxophone quartet as the vehicle driving her assertive vocals. "Busy Being Blue," reprised here from Irie Butterlies, illustrates this by building from a complex line laid down by pianist Benito Gonzalez, who shares a potent simpatico with the singer. Together, the pair swings with a most unusual grace. The song is a winding road, ultimately resolving.
"Jealous Fever" is a frantic cooker mimicking a suspicious lover encountering her secretive paramour. Gonzalez's left hand keeps the direction while his right questions the higher register as Larsson does her lover in her lyrics. On the title cut, Larsson briefly duets with saxophonist Joonatan Rauti as an introduction to her angular tome of resigned yet reticent surrender. This theme folds into "In Two Minds," which provides the disc's most clever writing. Larsson covers Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" as realized by pianist Gonzalez, who sets up a sensual anxiety that makes the song celebrate physical beauty and pleasure. Larsson does not choose the shortest route through her songs, instead elaborating some sections while increasing the anxiousness of others. Her voice is coolly even and her delivery dictated by the mood she is trying to achieve. Larsson represents a new class of vocalists who are pushing the limits of jazz vocals to the edge of post bop conventional wisdom into a realm not otherwise traveled.
Track Listing: Busy Being Blue; Jealous Fever; Let It Go; Overtime; In Two Minds; As The Sun Interrupted The Moon; Afro Blue; ...Like a Sweet Refrain; Irie Butterflies.
Personnel: Emma Larsson: vocals; Benito Gonzalez: piano, keyboards; Christian Spering: bass; Jukkis Uotila: drums; Joonatan Rautio: saxophones.