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Bria Skonberg: Nothing Never Happens

Jerome Wilson By

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Canadian trumpeter Bria Skonberg has made a name for herself as a player who is adept in traditional jazz styles but can also dabble in modern forms of rock and pop music. Her previous CD, With A Twist (Okeh, 2017), was a fun mixture of hot jazz and bubbly 1950s and 1960s pop tunes sparked with her own bright energy. Since then the grind of a musician's life, the state of the world and general media overload seem to have had an effect on her because this new CD is the product of a more mature and polished musician. This time out, Skonberg's singing and playing carries a level of grit and emotion she has never shown before.

That is most evident on the track "So Is The Day." She first recorded this back in 2012 as the title track of a CD on the Random Act label. That version was striking in itself, a bluesy crawl that showcased her growling trumpet and wistful but penetrating voice. The version on this disc is ten times more powerful. It is taken at a funereal tempo with Skonberg starting out singing at a ghostly coo backed by grunting bass and single drumbeats. Then she plays squealing lowdown trumpet with spectral guitar, jangling piano and swelling organ behind her. She alternates between singing and playing for six minutes, slowly ramping up the intensity. By the end, her voice is a bellowing roar and her trumpet is booming like thunder. It is an amazing performance.

Nothing else on the CD is quite that heavy but all the other tracks also show how Skonberg's talents have blossomed. On "Blackout," she sings in a low seductive voice and plays sassy trumpet over a swampy funk groove. "Blackbird Fantasy" is an ingenious and surprisingly natural pairing of the music of Duke Ellington's "Black And Tan Fantasy" and the lyrics of the Beatles' "Blackbird." Her version of Sonny Bono's "Bang Bang" starts with just the tremulous guitar of Nancy Sinatra's recording of the song but opens into swirling mariachi music with a stinging trumpet solo in the forefront.

On previous records Skonberg was backed by a large cast of musicians that varied from track to track. This time she works with her own road band of pianist Mathis Picard, bassist Devin Starks and drummer Darrian Douglas and their familiarity with each other helps immeasurably on the instrumental tracks. They help turn Queen's "I Want To Break Free" into an extended funky workout. The piano, bass and drums cook beautifully as Skonberg, saxophonist Patrick Bartley Jr, and organist Jon Cowherd raise the roof. On the set's most radical composition, Skonberg's "Villain Vanguard," the rhythm section sets up a brisk jogging rhythm while the horns and guitar wander through a maze of shifting tempos, melodic fragments and agitated free blowing.

Two songs on the disc have little or no trumpet but further show how versatile and affecting Skonberg's voice has become. On "Square One," a quiet country-flavored ballad with gentle guitar and organ backing, she sings with the endearing sadness of Norah Jones. Then on "What Now," the whispery intimacy of her voice takes on a slinky worldliness that makes the tune sound like a sophisticated soul ballad from the 1960s.

This is an impressive step forward for Bria Skonberg. She has exploded out of the "hot jazz" cage and become a mature, versatile musician who sings and plays with confidence in any style she wants, from country to modern jazz. Nothing Never Happens is a very pleasant surprise and one of the year's best recordings.

Track Listing: Blackout; So is The Day; Blackbird Fantasy; Square One; Villain Vanguard; Bang Bang; What Now; I Want To Break Free.

Personnel: Bria Skonberg: trumpet, vocals; Mathis Picard: piano; Devin Starks: bass; Darrian Douglas: drums; Doug Wamble: guitar; Jon Cowherd: Hammond B3; Patrick Bartley: saxophone (3, 5, 8).

Title: Nothing Never Happens | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Self Produced

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