Singer Barbara Sfraga's sophomore effort draws from the artist's strength: retooling well-worn classics into lean arrangements that highlight her mastery of phrasing and rhythm. Although guitarist John McLean adds a bit of spice to several cuts, Sfraga is most at home riffing off her rhythm section that includes drummer Paul Wertico, percussionist Kevin Patrick and bassist Chris Sullivan. It is Sullivan whom Sfraga plays off best and the two have a keen insight into each other's style.
An extended version of Hoagy Carmichael's vocally difficult "Stardust" begins the CD. Its sinewy a capella melodic statement is joined by a tropical rhythm as its lyrics unhurriedly tumble forward to give this most classic of love songs its due. Breezy Latin versions of "I've Grown Accustomed to His Face" and the usually sedate "You've Changed" evidence Sfraga's ability to bring a new awareness to very familiar melodies. Three Ellington classics are also given new faces: "Mood Indigo" is presented with long sensual phrasing, "Sophisticated Lady" has a pleasantly surprising almost happy mood, and "Prelude to a Kiss" is a tour de force for Sullivan as he gets down and funky providing a perfect counterpoint for Sfraga's vocal.
The sole self-penned number, "Never Walk Away," is a full-speed-ahead percussive adventure whose clever contemporary lyrics let the intended target know where he stands. Two intriguing inclusions are Dylan's 1980 ode to spiritual redemption, "Every Grain of Sand," and singer/songwriter Angela Bofill's titular inspiration "Under the Moon and Over the Sky." While the latter is primarily an expansion of the original's exotica feel, Dylan's under-recorded gem is given reverential treatment reminiscent of Joan Baez's best lyrical interpretations of his work. A look Under the Moon reveals that Sfraga's star is rising.
This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .
Personnel: Kevin Patrick - Percussion;
Paul Wertico - Drums;
John McLean - Guitar;
Barbara Sfraga - Vocals.