On her debut recording Sara Leib shows great promise and talent. A straight-ahead jazz vocalist in a Dominique Eade vein combined with a Madeline Eastman edge, she fashions her own interpretations on a collection of selections right out of the jazz vocal songbook, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure.
Starting out this swinging set is a cool yet angular rendition of the Cole Porter classic "All Of You." Scatting is not for the faint of heart, and Leib handles it particularly well in a risky instrumental style that belies her tender age on this cut. "I’m Beginning To See The Light" is memorable not only for Sara’s well sung vocal, but also for Marc Shilansky’s Monkish piano stylings on the first chorus. Disjointed and playful, it sets up the listener for the hard swing that follows once the rest of the trio joins in.
Norah Jones has certainly changed the landscape of what is considered a jazz vocal versus a jazzy vocal, and on "San Diego Serenade," a mournful Tom Waits song, Leib adds her own twist on that conundrum. This surprise is a heartfelt reading of a melancholy lyric that displays the singer's pure and clear voice in great form. Sometimes very fine jazz vocalists present non-traditional jazz material in a jazz style and format. On the oft-tackled torch song "More Than You Know," Leib and her bandmates alternate between an up-tempo samba with a decidedly Caribbean feel and a four-on-the-floor swing that’ll knock your socks off. Michael Herklot's drum solo stands out on this number.
My favorite song, coincidentally the title track, is Leib's emotional lyrical "It’s Not The Moon," set to Gerry Mulligan’s instrumental "Night Lights." It features a moody, cool vocal as well as Leib's vocal "trombone" solo over the changes. Polyrhythmic renditions of standards are sometimes forced and unnatural, with no thought given whatsoever to the lyric or its "feel." These renditions of "I Could Write A Book" and "It Could Happen To You" are a couple of exceptions. The first alternates comfortably between 3/4 and 5/4 while Sara floats over the changes effortlessly. The second is a funky 7/4 take that works surprisingly well and dresses up the "old girl" in some new threads. "If I Should Lose You" is a song I’ve heard done so often with no sensitivity given whatsoever to the lyric. Not so on this version. This singer brings out the poignancy of the lyric and Edward Perez on bass provides a smooth and understated solo that adds to the overall mood. Normally I enjoy bringing funk (and other non-traditional) beats brought into the jazz vernacular, but Leib and company don’t quite pull it off on "Stormy Weather."
Additionally, the transitions in and out of the swing feel on the bridge aren’t always as smooth as they perhaps could have been. However, I get the impression that this is a more a performance piece that translates better live than on recording. There are few choices riskier than to record with no more accompaniment than solo piano, and that is precisely what Sara Leib does on a minimalistic version of "Darn That Dream," as well as the first chorus of "The Shadow Of Your Smile," before settling into a tasteful bossa nova.
This is a fine start to Sara Leib's recording career. Hopefully, she’ll explore more non-traditional material in the future, but it’s best to play it close to the vest your first time out of the gate. I look forward to the maturation that is sure to come to this young but promising vocalist.
Visit Sarah Leib on the web at www.saraleib.com .
Track Listing: 1. All of You, 2. I'm Beginning to See the Light, 3. San Diego Serenade, 4. More Than You Know, 5. It's Not the Moon, 6. I Could Write a Book, 7. If I Should Lose You, 8. Stormy Weather, 9. Darn That Dream, 10. It Could Happen To You, 11. The Shadow of Your Smile.
Personnel: Sara Leib (vocals), Mark Shilansky (piano), Edward Perez (bass), Mike Herklots (drums).