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Lola Danza: The Island

C. Michael Bailey By

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Singer/composer Lola Danza is not a multicultural artistic presence, she is a pan-cultural artistic presence. This is fully exploited on her ensemble recording, Janya (Evolver, 2011). Her singing and songwriting hover in the neighborhood of jazz because terms like "new age" and "world music" don't seem to quite cover it. Live Free (Evolver, 2009) was exactly that, a freely expressed vocal recording taped live with a quartet at Boston's Ryles' Club. Danza demonstrated amply the depth and breadth of her vocal range, and allowed the quartet to do the same within the confines of their respective instruments.

Danza tightened things up on Vision Quest (Evolver, 2010) while retaining a grasp on the truly fresh and innovative. The singer employed a "rhythm section" of only two bassists. This setting, with an occasional accent added by brass or reeds, produced a spacious soundscape well suited for her vocal fireworks: a combination of Betty Carter's sheer elasticity and Lisa Sokolov's determined creative courage. Danza extrapolates this successful approach to her collection of "jazz standards," The Island. She also maintains it for several performances of original material reprised from Vision Quest.

Danza makes the most of her bass accompaniment (here John Lockwood and Garth Stevenson together perform on Danza's compositions, while Sean Conly goes it alone on the standards). The basses serve as an entire rhythm section, one that is fully and purely distilled to only a suggestion. This support allows Danza and her chosen soloists (trumpeter Phil Grenadier and tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker) free rhythmic and harmonic run of the pieces, a freedom evidenced most dramatically on the "standards." Standards are well-known entities with many recorded examples available for comparison. It is pretty safe to say that Danza's "Alfie" and "How Deep is the Ocean" are most unlike any previous interpretations, as Danza is liberal with her approach to vocal improvisation.

Danza's vocalism and scat chops are well developed, and she has absolutely no creative fear. The singer will vocalize any number of tones in any number of ways, always making sense of the music, even when this seems impossible. Her beautiful "Cecilia," one of the reprises from Vision Quest, is here, fully wrought, filled with invention and whimsy. This creative whimsy spills all over "Bye Bye Blackbird" and "Cry Me a River," giving those warhorses a mercuric shine and narcotic warmth. This is excellent, cutting edge singing that never sacrifices its aural and aesthetic beauty for intellectual and technical gymnastics.

Track Listing: The Island; Alfie; How Deep is the Ocean. Cecilia; Bye Bye Blackbird; Cry Me a River; The Unheard Song; Lover Man; GSP; It's All In Your Mind; Lola's Lament; JKL.

Personnel: Lola Danza: vocals; John Lockwood: bass; Sean Conly: bass; Garth Stevenson: bass; Phil Grenadier: trumpet; Adam Kolker: tenor saxophone; Nat Mugavero: drums.

Title: The Island | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Evolver

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