Bulgarian singer Maya Nova cut her teeth in pop, funk and jazz bands in her native Sofia, before relocating to Singapore in 2002. There, she successfully established her presence on the local jazz scene, in addition to holding the post of Main Study Voice Lecturer at the prestigious La Salle College of the Arts. Open
, her debut recording, sees Nova wrapping her vocal chords around a selection of mostly standards, extracting the most out of familiar tunes with her surprising vocal range and uninhibited improvisations.
Nova scats breezily through "Groovin' High," one of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie
's most popular tunes, ably supported by Tan Wei Xiang on Fender Rhodes and the swinging rhythm team of double-bassist Andrew Klein and drummer Tan Boon Gee. Xiang's touch on Rhodes is refreshingly light and the perfect accompaniment to Nova's relaxed delivery on "Upside Down" and Antonio Carlos Jobim
's lovely "Dinde."
The singer returns to her roots on "Polegnala E Todora Blues," with an enchanting but all too short snatch of traditional Bulgarian folk song, which segues into an extended blues workout. Nova's strong runs, punctuated by striking high notes, have the excitement of the unexpected, yet flow naturally and melodically, suggesting the influence of Gillespie. Not for nothing did Nova make the semifinals of the Shure Montreux Voice Competition
at the 43rd Montreux Jazz festival, in 2009. Nova's scat on Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's "My Shining Hour" exudes the same boppish freedom, accompanied solely by Klein's plunging, walking bass.
"I'm Old Fashioned," with full trio backing, has much the same feel as "My Shining Hour," perhaps because Mercer's lyrics left their stamp on both songs. The change in combinations, from quartet to duos, with either bass or keyboard, nicely alters the music's texture. Xiang plays something more than a comping role, and steals the show on Kurt Weill's "Speak Low" with a dark-hued, snaking solo.
An original intro of vocals and snare drum colors "You and the Night and the Music," and features telling work from Xiang and Klein. Elsewhere, Nova brings great intimacy and nuance to Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington's ballad, "Wild is the Wind." The title trackthe only self-penned numberis effectively an instrumental, with Nova's wordless vocals tracing a melody which could almost have been written for a two- or three-piece brass section. Open
succeeds in being simultaneously tuneful and technically absorbing. It will be interesting to see if Nova develops her own songwriting abilities or if she opts for a more left-field choice of material in the future. In the meantime, this satisfying recording will hopefully introduce a singer of notable skill and natural flair to a wider audience.
Groovin' High; Upside Down a.k.a. Flor De Lis; Polegnala E Todora Blues; Speak Low; My Shining Hour; I'm Old Fashioned; Dindi; You and the Night and the Music; Wild is the Wind; Open.
Maya Nova: vocals; Tan Wei Xiang: Fender Rhodes; Andrew Klein: double-bass; Tan Boon Gee: drums.