There are no doubts about it. Alma Micic (Mee-cheech) is a first rate jazz singer. On her debut album, Introducing Alma (CTA, 2004), she opened some doors with her seductive style working the Great American Songbook. Giving no hint of what was to follow, the release of The Hours raises the bar, leaving no hesitation about where this vocalist is headed.
The Hours is far from the type of breakthrough bestseller that one might intimate. It is thematically the very opposite of what Micic's debut album was. Here, all but one of the tracks is in English with a single Montenegrin traditional tune sung as on the earlier session. However, of the remaining compositions, all but two have been written or co-written by Micic. These songs are, for the most part, spiritual in nature, and whether this faith-based music works in a jazz context or detracts from it is uncertain. While these words could easily have been sung by Amy Grant or Kathy Troccoli, here the presentation is completely different.
It is an almost eerie experience to connect the message of the lyrics with the jazz delivery. If Betty Carter or Chris Connor were delivering a message of faith, would the final result be any less? Micic's shading and familiarity with the music creates a sense of ease and reassurance.
When, midway through the album, Micic roars through a version of "April in Paris"the only generally familiar songit is a refreshing, and up-tempo visit to another planet, where the singer nails the melody and settles into a comfortable and assured scat. It is almost as if she were winking to the listener, saying "Yeah, I can do that easy!"
Certainly, as in the case of her first album, the musical cast contributes mightily to the finished product. Her pianist, Brandon McCune, proves again to be a first-rate accompanist and soloist with lots of the same Red Garland block chording. Bassist Sean Conley and drummer Gregory Hutchinson make this one cooking rhythm section. Altoist Riley Bandy adds some punch to his two appearances, while Macic's husband Rale plays acoustic guitar on the singer's performance of the Montenegrin folk song, "Oj Djevojko Milijana."
Describing an album this eclectic can be difficult, but one listen to The Hours and Macic's distinctive approach becomes crystal clear.
Personnel: Alma Micic: vocals; Brandon McCune: piano, Fender Rhodes `(7); Sean Conley: bass; Gregory Hutchinson: drums; Riley Bandy: alto sax (1, 4); Fale Micic: acoustic guitar (8).