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Kristen Lee Sergeant: Smolder

Dan Bilawsky By

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Sometimes it takes an entire album, or even a few, to appreciate an artist's depth. But in the case of vocalist Kristen Lee Sergeant, you can get there in a song. Her morphing take on '80s new wave outfit Spandau Ballet's "True," revealing a theatrical streak and some pure and pliable pipes, does the job and then some. As an arranger Sergeant paints with beauty and perspective there, matching Ted Nash's alto flute to Jeb Patton's piano and making artful use of Jody Redhage Ferber's cello; and as a singer she balances passion and poise in her uncovering of the song's hidden angles and inner truths. It's a real achievement, and the first of many smart performances on Smolder.

Regardless of what material she's working with, Sergeant makes her mark by molding a song and owning its intentions with wisdom and clarity. On "Balm/Burn" she works a seam that soothes and seduces all at once. Through "Afterglow" she explores post-romance in ruminative fashion, with Nash's alto saxophone shadowing her mood and upping the ante. During "I'm Beginning To See The Light" she shows a lighter side and more flexible phrasing, connecting with bassist Cameron Brown's supportive lines. And during the reduced-gravity introduction of "Midnight Sun," her vocal certainty in the face of the unknown helps to light the way.

With the exception of Jimmy Woode's bossa-ballad "Sconsolato," the second half of the album focuses on classics that should be largely familiar to jazz-loving ears. But familiarity breeds a stretch here, as Sergeant expertly toys with form and flow. "It's All Right With Me" changes tempos and makes some sharp turns, with drummer Jay Sawyer steering with style and Sergeant stopping and shifting on a dime. And "Show Me" is twisted and tweaked, too. A shifting of gears and a play on moods carries the song to unexpected places.

The parting selections further illustrate Sergeant's vision of personalized narrative embedded within known quantities. Binding "These Foolish Things" and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," she creates an unbroken ideal laced with cello charms. And adding Afro-Cuban sway to "The Best Is Yet To Come," she raises a glass to optimism on her way out. With insightful offerings and stylish arrangements, Smolder truly stands apart. Kristen Lee Sergeant is most certainly deserving of greater recognition.

Track Listing: True; Balm/Burn; Afterglow; I’m Beginning to See the Light; Midnight Sun; It’s All Right with Me; Show Me; Sconsolato; Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (These Foolish Things); The Best is Yet to Come.

Personnel: Kristen Lee Sergeant: vocals, arrangements; Jeb Patton: piano; Cameron Brown: bass; Jay Sawyer: drums; Ted Nash: alto flute/alto saxophone; Jody Redhage Ferber: cello; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.

Title: Smolder | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Plastic Sax Records

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