Raya Yarbrough's eponymous disc cover shows a young, fresh, precocious face. The voice revealed in the disc's 12 selections, exhibits one that is older and more experienced than the cover's appearance betrays. While this disc will certainly be filed under jazz, it is much, much more. About the only way to introduce Raya Yarbrough is to say that she has arrived.
The best way to describe Yarbrough is that she takes up where Cassandra Wilson left off in latter efforts, bringing a sensual organicity to jazz vocals while also pushing the genre toward the mainstream. Yarbrough opens her recording with straight blues. To be sure, this is not your parent's Bessie Smith blues, but it is the blues never the less, complete with tasty slide guitar and provocative lyrics.
Right on the heels of this blues is a light reggae with an infectious treble hook, "You're So Bad For Me." This song will plant itself like a suggestion that will linger (like bubbles in a glass of champagne). "Joy Spring" is expansive with strings and a densely aromatic arrangement.
"Dreamer's Ball" is one of the most inventive eutectics of styles conceived and recorded in some time. The piece begins a cappella. The listener will detect 1920s New Orleans jazz-blues, South African harmonic singing (Yarbrough with backing vocals) morphing into Glenn Miller's Modernaires. And that is all before on instrument is even struck. Yarbrough solos over a chorus of "Empty Bed Blues" New Orleans style, a song that goes to church with Yarbrough belting it out. This song alone justifies the recording.
Yarbrough is not content regurgitating standards. She remakes them in her image. Ellington's "Mood Indigo" never sounded like this. She embellishes the front end of the song with a spare bass-voice introduction before diving into the familiar melody. Raya Yarbrough deserves more attention than she is likely to get. This type of talent does not exist often in jazz, not to mention popular music.
Personnel: Raya Yarbrough: vocals; guitar, piano; Takeshi Akimoto: guitar; John Kirby: piano, keyboards; Kaveh Rastegar: bass; Nate Wood: drums; Brian Swartz: trumpet and flugelhorn; Warren Lueing: trumpet; Katisse Buckingham: alto and tenor saxophones, flutes; Dan Higgins: alto saxophone; Keith Fiddmont: tenor saxophone; Robert Anderson, Paul Cartwright: violins; Tom Lea: viola; Joacob Szekely: cello; Jonathon snipes: loops.