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With a unique style and the gift of creativity, Lenora Zenzalai Helm expands the boundary of jazz vocalists with her new recording entitled Precipice. Accompanied by an extremely adept rhythm section consisting of emerging jazz lions Nasheet Waits on drums, Taurus Mateen on bass, and the ultra-talented pianist Stanley Cowell; Helm offers a view into her rich repertoire. A multifaceted artist, LZH is a composer, teacher, and also served as the U.S. Jazz Ambassador in 1998. But at the heart of the matter; she is a talented vocalist. Her previous recording Spirit Child received good reviews with anticipation of further works. Precipice would suggest the next chapter in Helm’s evolving process.
A total appreciation of the jazz vocal idiom can prove to be a tricky endeavor in terms of finding vocalists who walk the fine line of expressing their own voice, while also carrying the canonized torch of greats such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday. Whether driven by nostalgia, technique, or artistic vision; jazz vocalists face the challenge of self-identification, just as any other musician in the genre.
Helm definitely has her own voice and Precipice is a fine highlight for observation of her unique interpretations. The musical “modus operandi’ in Precipice is swing; and the band definitely delivers the goods. With the “dynamic duo” of rhythm: Waits and Mateen, who are both protégés of Greg Osby and Jason Moran, the music is as tight as it is fluid. Stanley Cowell, who recently collaborated with Jane Bunnell and Dewy Redman on the stellar recording Spirituals & Dedications is an excellent counterpart for Helm’s creativity and voice. Duane Eubanks offers his skill on two of the selections, with strong trumpet work. Whether covering the timeless masterpiece “Cheek to Cheek” by Irvin Berlin, or showcasing her skills on the modernistic title composition “Precipice”; Helm brings a freshness to the recording in terms of harmony, improvisation, tone, and delivery. Helm shows her deep range on the complex selection ‘Autumns’ and her astral reading of Duke Ellington’s “T.G..T.T.” This is not your standard pop-diva doing the jazz thing. This is a true reflection of a modern jazz vocalist.
Track Listing: 1. Falling Down 2. Every Time We Say Goodbye 3. Wise One/Precipice
4. But Not For Me 5. Three Little Words 6. Out of Ashes
7. Highwire 8. Says My Heart 9. Just Go 10. T.G.T.T.
11. Cheek To Cheek 12. Autumns
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.