With her new release Shades Of Delight, African-German vocalist Lyambiko reaches for her share of the spotlight in the contemporary jazz diva category. While her debut disc Out Of This Mood successfully capitalized on her good looks and exotic moniker, Shades Of Delight makes the case that she could be a flash-in-the-pan for the Nagel Heyer label. Through a mix of popular jazz standards and not-so-standard African traditional songs, Lyambiko's quirky mezzo-soprano strains for feeling but ends up sounding like a jazz version of Sade.
Right out of the box, the pretense of Shades Of Delight is revealed in a cutesy version of Van Morrison's "Moondance." Lyambiko sings with the swagger of Vegas lounge singer and her embarrassing repetition of the theme at the outro is enough to make your stomach churn. One of Lyambiko's improvisational tricks is to stress unexpected vowels or syllables – some would argue the wrong ones – to create a unique vocal style. The problem with her approach is that, unlike Sarah Vaughn or Betty Carter, she is stressing them simply for the novelty rather than for the meaning. The result is that the lyrics to songs like "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," "Tenderly," and "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" are drained of their meaning. One could attribute this flawed approach to Lyambiko's German accent, which surfaces to comic effect from time to time, but the exaggerated phrasing on "Black Coffee" tells otherwise.
On "Tenderly," Lyambiko is obviously shooting for the Sarah Vaughan style of improvisation, but she lacks the technique or range to pull off such bold improvisation. She fares much better on the syncopated "Morning" and her approach is quite compelling on neo-African tracks like "Malaika" and the call-and-response "Ilangamo," songs that offer the kind of drama she displayed on "Afro-Blue" from her debut album (a song she revisits here!). But with her multinational piano-bass-drums trio simply keeping time, it's a mighty long wait between choruses.
Lyambiko's brightest moment on Shades Of Delight is her passionate take on Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Dindi," where she communicates both great power and intuitive restraint within the song's shifting tempos. Perhaps this song points the way to stronger efforts from Lyambiko in the future. We can only hope.
Track Listing: 1. Moondance
3. I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm
4. Lush Life
5. Your Mind Is On Vacation
6. Black Coffee
10. Savannah Suite:
Drum And Bass And Bananas
Afro Blue Revisited
11. Isn't This A Lovely Day