Since Norah Jones' gargantuan hit CD some years ago, the field of pop/jazz, folk/jazz, and R&B/jazz singers is getting crowded. Some may bemoan this jazz adulteration, but if it brings new listeners to the music it's all good. Charlie Parker was, after all, lambasted for ruining jazz with bebop. From Sweden comes 32 year-old Viktoria Tolstoy, whose career has been in full swing since 1994, but is only recently getting some much deserved attention outside her own country. Her surname should a ring a bell as she is the great, great, great granddaughter of renowned writer Leo.
Her breakout CD, White Russian (Blue Note, 1997), produced by Swedish piano phenom Esbjorn Svensson, garnered plenty of acclaim. Her follow-up, Blame It On My Youth (Blue Note, 2001), scored points with the jazz cognoscenti by including the warhorses "Midnight Sun, "Laura and "Baby Plays Around, along with the title track.
Tolstoy switched to the German independent ACT label for a number of releases. Tolstoy admits, for Pictures Of Me, that her primary influences are less from the jazz pantheon and more from 1960s R&B singers, Chaka Khan in particular. She definitely wears her pop sensibilities on her sleeve.
She demonstrates her lilting, airy, almost transparent voice on the opener, "Women Of Santiago, then proceeds with a dreamy and fun interpretation of Paul Simon's "Have A Good Time. Her exhilarating choruses on "South, written by her impressive pianist Jacob Karlzon, soar above her band mates. Prince's "Te Amo Corazon has a sly bossa feel, while Peter Gabriel's "Kiss That Frog kicks it with a funky, gospel-inflected piano groove, ending with church recalling tambourine bust-out. "Absentee, another Karlzon gem, is a floating, angelic, yearning ballad.
In Tolstoy's hands "Strollin', again from Prince, becomes a sweet, seductive, and playful pop love ballad, with some impressive support from Karlzon. Seal's "Don't Make Me Wait becomes a blues and gospel-tinged craving for resolved love. Pictures Of Me winds down with a percussive, sweet and placid pop ballad, Can't Help It, "Green Little Butterfly, a pulsating, churning version of Van Morrison's "The Way Young Lovers Do and a gentle, piano-caressed "Old And Wise, with more beautiful playing/arranging from Karlzon.
For those who can handle a pop/jazz approach, Pictures Of Me and Tolstoy's lovely, almost ethereal voice will be a rewarding experience.
Personnel: Viktoria Tolstoy: vocals; Jacob Karlzon: piano, keyboards; Hans Andersson: acoustic bass; Peter Danemo: drums, percussion; Xavier Desandre Navarre: percussion; Tore Brunborg: saxophone, flute; Lars Danielsson: cello.