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Zara McFarlane: If You Knew Her

C. Michael Bailey By

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On her full-length follow up to 2010's EP Until Tomorrow, London-based singer Zara McFarlane perfects her blend of austere instrumentation and mantra-like rhythms supporting her rich and warm voice that owe more to Mongo Santamaria than reputedly Nina Simone or Roberta Flack. An album centerpiece, "Woman in the Olive Groves" undulates like "Afro Blue" while being able to act as its logical prelude. Backed by a traditional rhythm trio, McFarlane fulfills the potential of her subtle and muscular voice which sets perfectly against Brinker Golding's obtuse and probing tenor saxophone solo. Pianist Peter Edwards sinks McCoy Tyner chords into the ground like tent poles erected for elemental cover. It is this brief and honest instrumental and vocal simplicity that McFarlane, in her compositions, brings to this modern amalgam of jazz and soul.

McFarlane's voice swells to the challenge of sparse instrumentation. She capitalizes on the music's pulse, that necessary element propelling this collection of sweetly opaque songs forward. On "Move" McFarlane sings of motion and strength among uncertainty, motion provided by the shimmer of Edwards' right melodic hand tacked down by his precise left. The sole non-original composition is Junior Murvin's 1977 "Police & Thieves," later covered by the Clash. McFarlane takes the song far afield of Murvin's original Jah-happy rebellion and the Clash's boiling mercury version into the blended jazz-soul terrain of 21st Century London. A gentle heart is Zara McFarlane's, one that burns in a low smolder of creation.

Track Listing: Open Heart; Her Eyes; Move; You’ll Get Me In Trouble; Police & Thieves; Spinning Wheel; Plain Gold Ring; Angie La La; The Games We Played; Woman in the Olive Groves; Love.

Personnel: Zara McFarlane: vocals (all), piano (6), guitar (4); Peter Edwards: piano (2, 3, 5, 9, 10, 11); Gavin Barras: Bass (1, 8); Max Luthert: bass (2, 3, 5, 7, 10); Moses Boyd: drums (3, ; Andy Chapman: drums (2, 10); Taz Modi: drums (8); Binker Golding: tenor saxophone (10); Leron Thomas: trumpet (8); Rachel Gladwin: harp (8).

Title: If You Knew Her | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Brownswood Recordings

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