There's something wonderful about watching a major talent emerge blinking into the harsh spotlight of the public gaze for the first time. Of course, some find the experience so traumatic that they are never heard of again, others are unlucky finding themselves in the clutches of the unprincipled sharks that inhabit the arts every bit as much as, say, investment banking. On the strength of "Stories and Rhymes," the classy debut release from Lake District born, Welsh bred, singer Jasmine Power, there is no need to worry as this is one singer who will be just fine.
Why so confident? First and foremost, the appealing soulful warmth of her voice coupled with a flair for phrasing and a great band lift this debut EP way above the post-Winehouse herd. Talent and technical ability might have become undervalued commodities in our karaoke, popularity contest, culture but if you can't hear the difference when they are there then you are probably reading the wrong website. Power has said that she was attracted to jazz as a result of meeting musicians such as Cleveland Watkiss, Tony Kofi and Byron Wallen through a Jazz Festival her mother hosted, once commenting "these are the kind of people I wish to spend my life around, this music has such integrity and so do the people in it."
While there is a certain naivety about the quote, were All About Jazz's lawyers better funded I'm sure we might all enjoy a game of naming people in jazz whose relationship to integrity was at best tangential, the title track is utterly fabulous dispelling any doubts. Standing out on even a strong showcase EP it gives the best example of how Power can blend the emotional connection of a good soulful singer with the musical depth and surprise of jazz. The sound is perhaps most redolent of the likes of early Erykah Badu, possibly Corinne Bailey Rae, and maybe even the wonderful Zara McFarlane album of a couple of years ago given the musicianship and appealing jazz twist of the arrangements. Daniel Casimir's double bass opens things up and stretches the bottom end, allowing space in the arrangement for Joe Armon Jones' electric piano pattern and Power's superb voice to float free over the top. There's also an interesting video for this track that shows a rare visual sensibility and awareness of the impact of clever presentationeven in jazz the use of still or video images rarely attempts to go beyond evoking the smoky club ambience of a 1950s Blue Note date. Here Power's choreography has more in common with Kate Bush than Ella, Billie et al and is all the better for it.
There's also a commendable lyrical ambition in "Modern Century's Stage" with its rallying call of "we are tired of the world today... we are tired of the world this way..." teeing up a wonderful trumpet solo from Harrison Cole that takes things skywards. It's a plea for a more direct, personal, communication rather than the modern way through a screen -a youth that have ..." turned dark and cold and numb and dulled and we can't find the truth...." It works because of the rhythm of the delivery, and the boldness of the lyric -going beyond what Green Gartside once called "the common empty parlance of pop." Once artists were more prepared to depart from the templates, yet in our cowed times Power feels like she represents a dying breed on what is without doubt a second killer track on a quality debut EP.
Elsewhere Power's vocal on "Late Hours," enlivened by the inventive skittering drum pattern from Moses Boyd, is reminiscent of "Stronger Than Pride" era Sadesurely no bad thing. Cole's trumpet again keeps the jazz quotient up reinforcing the quality that runs through the whole showcase. The only slight misfire is the final track "A Man or a Boy" musically much more conventional than the rest of the EP, a setting that unfortunately draws attention to the most obvious lyric of the collection.
These are early days for Power and her band and there is so much that is great about this collection that we can only hope that the eventual first album fulfils the promise. "Stories and Rhymes" the song has already been available on Soundcloud for around a year, which suggests an artist honing her craft, experimenting with different directions and arrangements waiting until she is ready to share work that represents her best. On the basis of this EP, a debut album could be something special when that time comes, but until then this is more than enough. Highly recommended.
Stories & Rhymes; Modern Century's Stage; Late Hours; A Man or a Boy.
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