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Jo Lawry: Acrobats

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Jo Lawry: Acrobats
Australian vocalist Jo Lawry has covered a lot of ground in a musical career that goes back to her well-received debut in 2008, I Want to Be Happy (Fleurieu). Her formidable jazz chops were readily apparent on that release, but she then turned to other genres, including folk and pop on albums like Taking Pictures (ABC Music, 2015) and The Bathtub and the Sea (Fleurieu, 2018), not to mention a few guest spots with Sting, as on Symphonicities (Deutsche Grammophon, 2010). Lawry's voice is a winsome one, with a deceptive ease that renders anything she sings instantly accessible. But her latest release, Acrobats, reveals another more adventurous aspect to her craft that is sure to capture the interest of fans of vocal jazz across the spectrum. The format—just vocals, bass and drums, without a chordal instrument—is one of the most daunting settings for any vocalist. But Lawry handles the challenge with aplomb. It helps, of course, that the bassist and drummer in question are Linda May Han Oh and Allison Miller, respectively, two of the most nimble and sympathetic partners one could ask for.

Oh and Miller are the ideal match for Lawry's quicksilver instincts. Oh's tuneful echoing of Lawry's insouciant phrasing on the opener, Frank Loesser's "Traveling Light," effectively establishes the spirit of the album, and Miller's crisp accompaniment brings just the right amount of swing (and some terrific fills) to energize the track. The record's superior production allows the many nuances of all three musicians to emerge sharply, and there are lots of them to behold.

Much of the album is comprised of standards, with another two from Loesser ("My Time of Day"/"I've Never Been in Love Before") given superlative treatment by the vocalist, bending the notes artfully and elongating each phrase effortlessly, while even "Takes Two to Tango" somehow sounds fresh in Lawry's hands, especially in a compelling duo with Oh, whose lambent lyricism is richly displayed. Miller gets her own duet with Lawry on Cole Porter's "You're the Top," her expert brushwork capable of following each twist of Lawry's agile maneuverings. And while it's not exactly a "standard," Lawry's fellow Aussie John Farnham's 1980s pop hit "You're the Voice" is given an invigorating performance as well, driven along by Oh and Miller's spry rock-inflected accompaniment.

Each of the album's ten cuts is worthy of revisiting, but there are some special gems. Lawry's wordless vocals on Lennie Tristano's difficult "317 East 32nd Street" are spot-on, both precise and daring. And the album's infectious title track offers a jaunty tune masterfully rendered by the trio, with Lawry's lithe alto floating atop a sinuous groove from Oh and Miller's adroit work on the toms. A jazz tune with a catchy pop feel despite its odd-meter structure, it exemplifies the album's unique charms.

There is no telling where Lawry's peripatetic tendencies might lead her in the future. But Acrobats makes it clear that her prowess as a jazz vocalist is undeniable, and we might selfishly hope she decides to remain a bit longer in this vein before moving on to her next adventure.

Track Listing

Travelling Light; Acrobats; Taking a Chance on Love; You’re the Top; ‘Deed I Do; You’re the Voice; Takes Two to Tango; 317 East 32nd St; My Time of Day/I’ve Never Been in Love Before; If I Were a Bell.

Personnel

Album information

Title: Acrobats | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Whirlwind Recordings


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