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Lola Danza: The Island

Dan Bilawsky By

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Vocalist Lola Danza has always been an original thinker, but that doesn't get you very far in a field crowded with people fitting that description. What makes Danza stand out is her strength of vision and steadfast commitment to following her muse, no matter how non-commercial it may be. With Janya (Evolver, 2011), Danza and her fellow female band mates explored Korean-influenced avant-garde avenues of expression, creating far-reaching fantasies that could alternately fascinate or frighten. On The Island, Danza takes a more jazz-oriented approach, tackling some standards and mixing with more conventional Western instruments, but her unique lineup of backing musicians and free roaming tendencies still mark this as a far-left-of-center affair.

Few vocalists would feel comfortable working without the harmonic safety net provided by a piano or guitar, but Danza doesn't give it a second thought. She even goes one better and uses a two-bass team as the foundation for some of her work. John Lockwood and Garth Stevenson manage to work with and against one another in fine fashion, while supporting and playing off of Danza's flexible vocal work. Part of the joy in the discoveries here has to do with their ability to complement or counter one another while still keeping the ball in play. They can create a picture of somber elegance ("Lola's Lament") or contrast by using different playing techniques ("It's All In Your Mind") but, above all else, they do right by supporting Danza's voice. Elsewhere, Danza hands over the bass duties to Sean Conly and he never disappoints. He sounds terrific on "How Deep is the Ocean," as his bass interacts with Danza's vocals, and the same can be said for classics like "Cry Me a River" and "Bye, Bye Blackbird."

Several other musicians come in and out of the picture, altering the sonic atmosphere of each piece. Tenor saxophonist Adam Kolker brings his breathy, subtone sound to bear on the title track and an unusually titillating "Lover Man," magnifying the mood of the music. The other two visitors—trumpeter Phil Grenadier and drummer Nat Mugavero—tend to bring out the wilder side in Danza—or vice versa—as they go outside and stir things up on "GSP" and "JKL." Danza herself has no problem tracing the lines around familiar melodies, but she's equally adept at pushing boundaries with wordless wanderings and momentary, caustic vocal distortions. This is vocal jazz for the fearless adventure seeker, not the faint of heart.

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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