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Lenora Zenzalai Helm: Spirit Child

Jim Santella By

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In her debut recording, singer Lenora Zenzalai Helm scat-sings and transforms poignant lyrics in an array of jazz styles. Helm, who has a vocal degree from The Berklee College of Music in Boston and has represented the U.S. State Department on a month-long tour of Africa, has put together a winning team effort. However, the singer’s tendency to allow the pitch to waver and to withhold support when vocal projection is demanded by the arrangement, detracts in specific instances.

From start to finish, the session runs the gamut from echoes of Mongo Santamaria’s "Afro Blue" at the start, to the heartfelt aria from Porgy And Bess at the end. The album takes its title from the singer’s middle name, Zenzalai, which means "Spirit Child" in Zulu. Background information and a brief audio clip from a live performance may be found at http://www.kennedy-center.org/stage/ambassadors/artistbios.html .

Saxophonists Branford Marsalis, Abraham Burton, Dave Liebman, Antonio Hart and Mark Gross serve as melodic partners for Helm’s session. Her piano trio - Orrin Evans, Miriam Sullivan and Nasheet Waits - supports admirably. The high point of the album is Wayne Shorter’s "Footprints," with its powerfully dramatic piano trio and inspired saxophone that spars round and round with Helm’s vocal lines. The singer serves as a well of inspiration through her creative pitch manipulations; yet Helm’s vocal acrobatics backfire in the areas where one would expect stability. "The Life That You Live May Not Be Your Own" and "More Than You Know," for example, require an accurate melody and the strength to project it. Helm’s jazz rainbow contains a variety of musical elements and the talent with which to present them properly. Not lacking in spirit, she’s bound to achieve success with her unique approach.


Track Listing: Keep Takin

Personnel: Lenora Zenzalai Helm- vocals; Orrin Evans- piano; Miriam Sullivan- acoustic bass; Nasheet Waits- drums; Kahlil Kwame Bell- percussion; Donald Brown- piano on "Summer Soft" and "More Than You Know"; Mark Gross- soprano saxophone; Abraham Burton- tenor saxophone on "My Favorite Things," "The Life That You Live May Not Be Your Own" and "Boomerang"; Ron Carter- acoustic bass on "Twisted"; Antonio Hart- alto saxophone on "The Life That You Live May Not Be Your Own"; Dave Liebman- soprano saxophone on "Single Petal of a Rose" and "Footprints"; Branford Marsalis- tenor saxophone on "

Title: Spirit Child | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: J Curve Records

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