Dana Lauren: Songs From Her Heart
"Brad Mehldau is one of my favorite jazz musicians," Lauren continues. "He's amazing. I had a chance to meet and talk to him ... He stresses the importance of being able to play bebop and understanding that music. Without it, he wouldn't be able to create the kind of music he does, that is so solid and influential. Stuff no other pianist has done before."
Lauren's recording is worthy of repeated listening. "That Old Black Magic" jumps forward, the band giving it an exotic rhythmic base that Lauren moves into, phrasing like a horn; doing it with sleek dexterity and an inviting manner. Frahm takes one of his many tasty solos on the record before the band bebops out, with Valera tossing in fleet and stylish piano runs. When Lauren re-enters, her approach is different, playing with the rhythm as well as the harmonies. "A Small Hotel" also comes out softly swinging; an uplifting jaunt, with Lauren dancing around the melody without stretching it too far. A ballad highlight is "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," a songs stamped indelibly stamped years ago by Frank Sinatra. But this rendering is a worthy addition, Lauren's supple voicebacked only by pianoblissfully assuring that those hours are surely the time that she's missed most of all. Lauren, backed by only Valera, imbues it with the right amount of pathos without being dreary; a delight.
"On the Sunny Side of the Street" is a duet with the brilliant McBride, who sets the pace with his strong sound. When Lauren enters, he carries the voice on his broad shoulders. The singer keeps her statement simple, bending a phrase and note here or there, blending nicely. Later, she plays gleefully with the rhythm, while McBride keeps the song tethered. Her voice is soft and graceful, her improvisations slight, but right.
"He's the man. He's the definition of The Man. He's amazing," says Lauren says of McBride, whom she met in 2008 at a summer jazz program in Aspen, Colorado, where she was a scholarship student. "Doing this song with him was kind of unreal. Being at Avatar (Avatar Studios, NYC), which is one of the greatest recording studios in the world. Studio A is where we recorded. Just to feel all the energy of the musicians that have been in that room. Harry Connick recorded in there. Diana Krall recorded there. Jane Monheit. Herbie Hancock. So there's this energy in there. Then, recording with Christian. He swings so hard with such a full sound; you forget that you're just playing with one instrument. You feel like you're playing with an entire band. You don't even need the band with him. It swings so hard."
She adds, "Sometimes I listen to that and I really think about it, I have to ground myself. He's one of my close friends. Sometimes you forget when you know somebody, [just] how big they are. Christian is just big. He's legendary. And I had a chance to record with him, so it's pretty cool."
In planning for the recording, "I look for songs that not a lot of people have done. Like the title track. A lot of people have told me they've never heard of that song. It's such a great song ... They're old songs, but a lot of people haven't even heard them. I like to bring them out into light," says Lauren. "I feel really confident in the direction that I'm heading. What I'm doing now is taking kind of obscure standards and adding new life to them ... Sometimes I'll hear an arrangement of a standard and my jaw will drop. I'll say, 'You killed this. You ruined it.' It doesn't even sound like the same song. I never, ever want people to feel that way with me and my music.
"It's weird. I get a feeling when I practice a good song. It is the melody and the lyrics I have a connection to. Every song on this album I have an emotional connection to. 'Sunny Side of the Street,' for example. Freshman year [college] was an interesting time for me. It was kind of a dark time. I was trying to discover who I was, like most people at the age of 18. That recording just uplifted me. I'd have it playing in my room. And every time I listened to it I'd feel better. So in doing the new CD, I felt it was kind of like a beginning."
She adds, "This CD feels like the true beginning of my career. Me, as an artist, saying something. I felt like it was important for that song to be a part of it. Because of how it made me feel, at that time in my life. I am proud of my first CD. It does show that I was young. My friends who know me listen to it and say, 'I can tell you didn't produce this.' It's not what I would have chosen to do, necessarily. I do respect the decisions that Arturo [Sandoval] made. He, obviously, is an extremely accomplished musician and he did a beautiful job with everything. But I'm really proud of this CD because this is me. I made the calls. I picked the songs. I did the arrangements with Manuel. It was a cool experience for me. I feel like this is it. This is the one that's going to happen."