Tammy Scheffer is a singer of few words. Other that the standard "When You Wish Upon A Star," none of Wake Up, Fall Asleep, Scheffer's 2010 debut recording, has any lyrics. Other than "Star," Scheffer composed all of the songs herself, and prefers to compose melodies without words. Not only does this allow the listener to imprint their own feelings and moods upon the pieces, it also allows her to take advantage of the voice as an instrument as she joins the band's front line of two saxophones.
It may also come as a surprise that Scheffer has a fondness for odd time signatures; 5/4 and 7/8 appear frequently, and waltz-time is a favorite as well. These aren't time signatures that swing, and Scheffer's compositions have the off-kilter feel of the stage compositions of Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein
Weird time signatures? No lyrics? If it sounds like a risky approach it probably is, but Scheffer has created a captivating record that is filled with promise, the start of a career of someone who not only has vocal chops, but can also compose memorable songs based on catchy vocal riffing. A native of Belgium who grew up in Israel, Scheffer caused a stir in the Israeli jazz scene, and since she has moved to New York has been on a roll ever since. She caught the attention of saxophonist Greg Osby
The opening "I Can't See You Now" sets the stage perfectly, with a memorable three-note riff transformed by modulations by the band underneath which then flies off into unexpected directions. "9 to 5" follows a similar pattern, a melancholy tune that is worked out in various permutations. Most songs are taken at a pensive, introspective tempo, but Scheffer proves she can swing tooeven in odd temposon the briskly paced "Home Is Where My Laptop Is." "Hakol Yihiye Beseder" is an absolutely lovely tune that closes the album, a wonderful lullaby that features the band working an unison to create a quiet, idyllic mood.
The backing band is sturdy without being overbearing; its role is clearly to support Scheffer and take the occasional understated solo. The three lead voicesAndrew Urbana on alto, Steve Pardo
, and an unerring sense of rhythm. Given that she explores wordless singing, her knack with exploiting the sound and sense of various syllables displays her vocal proficiency, singing lyrically without singing about anything at all. Words here aren't what matters; it's the emotion created through sound that Scheffer is exploring. But she's no slouch when it comes to singing standards, either: the aforementioned "When You Wish Upon A Star" makes good use of a Latin beat for the verses before the band heads off into the improvisational forest. This version is one of the best of the tune in a long time.
Wake Up, Fall Asleep is an intriguing debut, the kind of album that might draw you in while at the same time making you wonder what Scheffer will do next. It's clear from her debut that Scheffer could continue to mix standards and original compositions in exciting new ways, but this bold, original recording suggests that her next effort will be something completely different. Wake Up, Fall Asleep will more than tide her audience over until then.
Tracks: I Can't See You Now; When You Wish Upon A Star; 9 To 5; Welcome To Brooklyn; Rega! Rega! (Wait A Minute, Wait A Minute!); The List; Kum, Shan (Wake Up, Fall Asleep); Home Is Where My Laptop Is; Hakol Yihiye Beseder (Everything's Going TO Be Just Fine).
Personnel: Tammy Scheffer: voice; Andrew Urbina: alto saxophone; Steve Pardo: tenor saxophone; Chris Ziemba: piano; Brad Barrett: bass; Ronen Itzik: drums.