So many talented lady jazz singers out there; add Laird Jackson to the list. Though she's not quite new to the sceneher debut CD, " Quiet Flame came out in '94, emphasis on popular standards of the 30's and 40's. She's taken a different tack this time out, on Touched, covering songs by Bill Withers, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, and the almost forgotten Donovan. And she's writing, too; six of the CDs eleven songs are Jackson originals.
Some impressions on Touched : Laird Jackson has some pipes, a beautiful instrument, a rich, burnished contralto, with range. And she can pick a song. Her decision here to stay away from the older standards and cover some unlikely material pays off. Especially on Joni Mitchell's "Tin Angel" (more later). And like Cassandra Wilson, Laird Jackson has the ability to stretch and mold a melody like a lump of clay: Stevie Wonder's "Visons", and especially Donovan's "Catch the Wind". And a gorgeously haunting version of the obscure (but should be a classic, and might be, if this gets enough listeners) "Lonely House", a collaboration between poet Langston Hughs and melodist Kurt Weill, originally recorded by Abby Lincoln.
Another impression: Jackson is a fine songwriter. "Yet Still" is an achingly lovely a cappella prayer. And the sprightly and upbeat "Take a Walk with Me" is a sort of update on the classic "The Sunny Side of the Street"; deceptively sunny, perhaps. The song is actually a beseechment to a friend who was descending into the personal bedevilment of drug abuse.
Now, Joni Mitchell's "Tin Angel": Laird Jackson's delivery is similar to Joni's, but with more depth and richness in the vocals, with an arrangement that is fittingly spare and absolutely exquisite, instruments sneaking in and out of the mix like cats at midnight; with Steve Wilson's soprano sax slipping in with a subtle and very Wayne Shorteresque solo before Laird tells us, ..."I've found someone to love today." A six minute masterpiece, a musical diamond buffed and polished, all facets flashing.
So many talented jazz ladies, but Laird Jackson is right there with the pack, running in front, in fact, deserving of a big label, big money push.
I can't say enough for her decision to cover some newer songs. That's a direction jazz, it seems, needs to take to maintain its vitality. I'd love to hear her do "My Foolish Heart"; but there are so many great newer songs floating around that are crying out for jazz treatments. I'd love to hear her do Donovan's "First There is a Mountain" or (and I'll surely take some flak for this, but it's a compelling melody) Alanis Morissette's "Jagged Little Pill".
But Laird Jackson, who has just produced a four and a half star CD with Touched doesn't need my suggestions.