With a veritable plethora of jazz singers devoting the majority of their time to endless reinterpretation of the Great American Songbook, it's refreshing to come across someone who, in addition to writing her own mainstream material, chooses to examine less-travelled sources. Italian singer Cinzia Spata may not yet be well known in North America, but by putting together a mainly American group, including pianist Marc Copland, bassist Ron McClure, and saxophonist Donny McCaslin (along with fellow Italian Marcello Pellitteri on drums), 93-03 might just change that.
One can certainly hope. Spata possesses a strong range and the confidence to avoid the obvious. Vibrato, rather than being a defining characteristic of her style, is just another techniqueto be used when appropriate, rather than something to fall back upon. Capable of rich lyrical invention, she lays claim to the philosophy that the voice is indeed an instrument. She develops focused improvisations in a programme that includes four originals, two pieces by veteran composer/trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, a Brazilian tune, a deep rendition of Horace Silver's "Lonely Woman, and one standard, Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye, interpreted with a late night vibe in duet with Copland. Spata never resorts to melodrama or over-singing. Her use of space and ability to let long notes breathe when they should, or use subtle dynamic inflections to lend them subtle power, gives the entire set an emotional resonance that's missing with so many of her peers, who often feel compelled to show off, rather than pay respect to the essence of a song.
Rather than seeing herself as a frontwoman supported by a capable group, Spata clearly views herself as an equal member of the ensemble, linking her aesthetically to British singer Norma Winstone. Her ability to snake in and out of unison with McCaslin's soprano saxophone and at times become almost a second horn on Wheeler's "A Young Girl and her own "Thanks, G. is quite miraculous, showing that she's listening to what's going on around her, rather than expecting everyone else to follow along.
Copland is his usual impressionistic self, his lyrical style the perfect accompaniment to Spata's own thematic sense of melody. McClure, an underappreciated player, has a deeply resonant tone and playing style that comfortably straddles maintaining the forward motion of the material along with Pellitteria fluid drummer with an elastically interpretive time senseand suggests subtle reharmonizations with Copland, McCaslin, and Spata. With a group this good, there are plenty of magical moments where everything just seems to align perfectly.
Spata proves that it's possible to deliver an eminently approachable set that doesn't pander to the mainstream's lowest common denominator. She's a mature singer who possesses the same key characteristics that make any instrumentalist worth investigating. 93-03 may not allow Cinzia Spata to supplant the popularity of more obvious singers like Jane Monheit, but in a perfect world it would.
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