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Sarah Elizabeth Charles: Inner Dialogue

Dan Bilawsky By

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Trying to categorize or label vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles is a futile pursuit. Is she a hypnotic modern jazz vocalist? Is she a neo-soul experimentalist with jazz and R&B inflections oozing from her vocal cords? Is she an incredible talent, bewitching and beguiling with her every vocal gesture? Is she all of that, yet something completely different and unique? The answer to all four questions is the same: absolutely.

Inner Dialogue—Charles' sophomore album, following Red (Truth Revolution Records, 2012)—is a work of confidence and maturity, an intensely personal musical statement, and a hip blend of styles, suggestions, and sounds. Charles' voice—wholly attractive and velvet smooth, powerful yet vulnerable, and, on rare occasion, showing a bit of bite—is a well-trained instrument that's strong and sensuous at once. When paired with the creative grooves, blips, burbles, ripples, upsurges, and shimmering sounds provided by her longtime band mates—pianist Jesse Elder, bassist Burniss Earl Travis II, and drummer John Davis—it can go nearly anywhere.

The playlist on Inner Dialogue speaks to Charles' own artistic ambitions, her fondness for legendary figures who also spoke with a personalized patois, and her experiences in Haiti, where she worked to create a music education program for a non-profit called Rise2Shine. She presents music with authority and intensity ("Breathe"); sings of love, fragility and beauty ("More"); layers her voice in attractive fashion ("Inner Intro"); brings a slick and chilled-out quality to Haitian traditional music ("Yo-Yo"); and recasts the music of Miles Davis ("Nardis") and Betty Carter ("Open The Door") in her own image.

Charles co-produced the record with trumpeter Christian Scott, who makes two appearances here, and together, both manage to do a fine job balancing textural trappings with vocal focus. In a time when too many musicians try to make a hard sale with their art, Sarah Elizabeth Charles seems to find success going the other way, creating music that's more about beckoning than badgering.

Track Listing: Inner Intro; Breathe; White And Blue; After Life; Yo-Yo; Choucoune; Beauty; And Now I Know; Bells; Nardis; Open The Door; More; Haitian Sunrise.

Personnel: Sarah Elizabeth Charles: vocals; Jesse Elder: piano, keyboards, Rhodes; Burniss Earl Travis II: acoustic bass, electric bass; John Davis: drums; Christian Scott: trumpet (2, 9); Camila Meza: guitar (13); Jesse Fischer: glockenspiel (13).

Title: Inner Dialogue | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Truth Revolution Records

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