Sylvia Brooks: Restless (2012)
Part the curtains and turn on the Klieg lights for singer Sylvia Brooks, whose second album, Restless, has the widescreen scope and orchestral sweep of a theatrical production. In fact, the record has the overall feel of a soundtrack for a film yet to be made. However, the kind of Hollywood movie this music recalls is certainly not of modern origin; rather, Brooks is paying homage to the film noir classics of the '40s and '50s. In terms of her image alone, Brooks certainly plays the part well; the CD case is enveloped in femme fatale imagery, capitalizing on her sultry looks but also experimenting with light and shadow to strike a black and white atmosphere. The visual element of the album is significant because it adds layers of mystery to the songs presented, placing these covers in a refreshingly pulpy context.
Co-producers Brooks, Jerry Bergh and saxophonist Kim Richmond were certainly aware of the cinematic direction the songs were taking, as the opening "'Round Midnight" initially unfolds with ambulance sirens. The tune is given a James Bond kick as Brooks' larger-than-life voice recalls the booming soul of Shirley Bassey. The music sounds big, too, enveloping the speakers with its soaring horns and pounding drums. By the second cut, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Brooks plumbs the emotional depths of the material; there is a plaintive romanticism to her vocal work here that is absolutely dazzling.
While many other jazz singers are reluctant to expand their range, Brooks shows remarkable courage in continually pushing herself. The boldly self-confident swagger of "You Go to My Head" is miles apart from the heartbroken fragility of "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"; nevertheless, Brooks doesn't lose any sharpness in her stylistic shifts. The quirky stop-start rhythms of "Trouble" may seem out of place from the lush, rain-swept balladry on the record. That's probably because it's not really jazz; the song is an original from Over the Rhine, first heard on The Trumpet Child (Great Speckled Dog, 2007), and echoes CIncinatti duo's alt-rock sensibilities. The gorgeous "Blues in the Night" is, on the other hand, more characteristic of the record's moody crooning.
For an independent project, Restless is certainly ambitious; this is no paint-by-numbers jazz vocal showcase, but a fully realized movie score.
Track Listing: 'Round Midnight; Boulevard of Broken Dreams; You Go to My Head; Trouble; Last Tango; Be Cool; Blue Alert; Blues in the Night; You're My Thrill; Stormy Weather; I'm a Fool to Want You.
Personnel: Sylvia Brooks: vocals; Rich Eames: piano; Jeff Colella: piano; Kevin Axt: bass; Chris Colangelo: bass; Kendall Kay: drums; Steve Hernandez: percussion; Brian Kilgore: percussion; Harry Scorzo: violin, bass violin; Jeff Gauthier: violin; Jamey Havorka: trumpet; George McMullen: trombone; Kim Richmond: saxophone; Alex Budman: saxophone; Ron Kolina: harmonica.
Record Label: Sylvia Brooks Music