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Sophie Berkal-Sarbit

Teenaged jazz singer must be channelling golden-era greats

In spite of the fact she's only graced this planet for 16 years, Winnipeg's Sophie Berkal-Sarbit has much of what it takes to make it as a jazz singer. Just give a listen to her debut album "The Gypsy On my Soul" and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Judging from her rock-steady performances, you'd think she's channelling some of the classic jazz singers from the golden era of jazz, like Peggy Lee and Billie Holiday. She can twirl her vocal chords around the lyrics of her 11 selections quite nicely and even does a tad of scatting, easily out-singing many ladies twice her age who call themselves jazz singers.

Her voice is extremely pure, clean, dreamy and technically superb. Generally, that's not a problem. But when you sing slow jazz and blues songs about yearning and about love gone wrong, you need vocal chords that have been scratched raw by whiskey, cigarette smoke and heartbreak. You've got to have experience with yearning and love gone wrong. That's what gives you vocal conviction and makes songs believable. But somehow, it's hard to believe that this fresh-eyed teen has a reason (or a right) to sing the blues, as she says in one of her songs.

I'd like to hear her again in 20 years or so, once she's gotten a few miles and a few relationships behind her. Then, she'll rock. Mark my word: she's going to be making lots of waves in the jazz world over the next few years.

On this first album, she keeps things very simple; she's not trying to impress the world by trying to hit crazily high notes or by performing vocal acrobatics. She just performs her selections in a very safe, even-keeled, straight-ahead manner.

I tend to prefer her faster numbers--such as the funky and punchy Fascinating Rhythm, the boppy Circle, the classy Midnight Sun and the finger-snapping Sunday. She's also got several slow gems in there as well that are well worth a listen.

We also get treated to various cultural influences--including a bit of latin percussions and some Yiddish violin. I'm assuming from of that Jewish influence comes from the singer's family background. In fact, her grandfather, Rabbi Louis Berkal is renowned as one of Canada's oldest and most respected cantors.

Producer Bill King did a bang-up job of putting together this great album. He assembled an exceptional cast of renowned jazz musicians to back up Sophie's super-smooth voice: himself on piano and organ, Pat La Barbera on tenor sax and flute, Dave Young on acoustic bass, Kevin Turcotte on trumpet, Davide Di Renzo on drums, Jake Langley on guitar, Lenny Solomon on violin and Rosario "Chendy" Leon on percussions.

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