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Fini Bearman: Step Up

Bruce Lindsay By

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Step Up is the debut from British vocalist/songwriter Fini Bearman. Bearman has studied with Judy Niemack, and lists Gretchen Parlato as an influence—two singers with the ability to inhabit the lyrics of a song, giving the impression that even well-worn songbook standards were written about their lives. Bearman shares that quality and also has Cassandra Wilson's ability to weave her voice in and around the instrumental lines as if it were an additional instrument. She sings with the London Vocal Project and has recorded with F-IRE Collective saxophonist Carlos Lopez-Real's Mandorla on Mandorla (F-IRE, 2010).

Bearman's voice is striking: crystal-clear, and precise yet delicate. But she is not merely a technician, and her emotional engagement with these songs is obvious. When she stretches to the top of her range on the gorgeous "Step Up"—dedicated to her friend, trumpeter Richard Turner, who died in 2011—there are moments when this emotional connection is nakedly apparent. The lyrics on Step Up are consistently intriguing, whether she is writing her own words, or using those of Fernando Pessoa ("Fumei a Vida"), Pablo Neruda ("Still") or Sappho ("Kyrpis," on which Bearman combines Anne Carson's translation of the ancient Greek poetry with a sympathetic and lyrical melody). Bearman eschews easy rhymes and romantic clichés, preferring to create more complex imagery that may lack immediate accessibility but rewards repeat listens.

While Bearman's voice is irresistible, it benefits greatly from the sympathetic and inspirational playing of her band mates. Pianist Rick Simpson, Empirical bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Josh Morrison have been working with Bearman since 2007, and their mutual understanding gives the album a strongly collaborative feel.

Farmer's tough funkiness lends strength to the rhythmic core of the music, giving Morrison the chance to weave some inventive drum patterns around the bass line. Simpson's delicate, lyrical, playing provides superb support for Bearman's vocal; his solo introduction to "Ocean Wide" and his delicate, spacious, opening to "Fumei a Vida" set the scene perfectly for Bearman's entrance. "Still" opens with a particularly funky bass line from Farmer before Bearman's soulful vocal begins. "Taking Steps" has a rolling rhythm, thanks to the band's beautifully fluid playing, over which Bearman's wordless vocal—at times in unison with Simpson's piano—soars expressively.

Step Up establishes Bearman as an expressive singer, and an intriguing composer and lyricist. An original talent blessed with a fine set of supporting musicians, Bearman is a fine addition to the exciting new generation of jazz singers emerging from the UK.

Track Listing: Step Up; Fumei a Vida; Still; Ocean Wide; Kypris; Awakening; Taking Steps.

Personnel: Fini Bearman: vocals; Rick Simpson: piano; Tom Farmer: double bass; Josh Morrison: drums.

Title: Step Up | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Feenz Beenz Records

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