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Cathy Segal-Garcia: The Jazz Chamber

Jerome Wilson By

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On this album, Cathy Segal-Garcia, a vocalist and educator on the Los Angeles jazz scene, comes up with something special, working with a chamber orchestra and a group of jazz musicians to produce a wide-ranging program that veers from lush romanticism to complex jazz-funk.

On much of the disc, Segal-Garcia's thick, classically formal voice, combined with a full string section, presents a lilting hybrid of jazz and light classical music. On first hearing it sounds a bit too sugary but as you listen more, the maturity and warmth of Segal-Garcia's voice reveals itself. This approach works best on a waltz version of "Star Eyes," the light samba groove of "High Trapeze" and "This Moment," a lovely lyric version of the Vince Mendoza composition "Ambivalence." It goes slightly overboard, though, on a duet with Mon David, "Cinema Paradiso Theme," that sounds like it escaped from an operetta. A duet in Portuguese with Kate McGarry on Dori Caymmi's "Velho Piano" provides stronger drama and "Sleep In Peace," a lullaby Segal-Garcia sings backed by just a string quartet, is beautiful in its simplicity.

That material alone would make a worthwhile romantic vocal-album. However there are also two remarkable, extended tracks, arranged by Bevan Manson, that take this set to an entirely different place, back to the deep, mysterious experimental-fusion of early Weather Report and Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi. Bennie Maupin's "Message To Prez" is a collage of strings, piano, woodwinds, the wordless scatting of Segal-Garcia's vocal improv group, Fish To Birds, and Maupin's own bottom-rattling bass clarinet. It flows for almost 13 minutes, alternating between bright vocal babble and hovering tensions among the strings and reeds. The other surprise is a medley of two songs out of Les McCann's repertoire, "Universal Prisoner" and "Compared To What," where Segal-Garcia brings in Tierney Sutton as a duet partner.

On the first song they trade ominous lines about the confusions of modern man over a lightly swinging bed of reeds and vibes with prickly atonal accents. Then they begin "Compared To What" by scatting over a sinister cloud of flutes, brass and vibes before Edwin Livingston's heavy funk bass leads them into the familiar lyrics. Their voices get harder and stronger singing these angry words over nagging minor key harmonies—and occasionally dropping in their own lines like "This is the oddest time" and "What do we have to compare it to?" The two vocalists alternate lyric singing with soaring, wordless scat over skeletal funk rhythms before ending with quotes about loving intentionally and moving forward with purpose through dark times.

The breadth of this album is pretty amazing. It has formal chamber music sitting side by side with swirling experiments in rhythm and melody. It's like a classical recital that alternates works by Mozart and Stravinsky. Cathy Segal-Garcia and her collaborators are to be congratulated on pulling off a daring mesh of ideas.

Track Listing: Star Eyes; Velho Piano; Time After Time; High Trapeze; Cinema Paradiso Theme; Message To Prez; This Moment; Universal Prisoner-Compared To What; Sleep In Peace.

Personnel: Cathy Segal-Garcia: vocal; Kate McGarry (2), Mon David (5), "Fish To Birds" (6) (Cathy Segal-Garcia, Ashley Maher, Emile Hassan Dyer, Cecily Gardner, Mon David, Adrienne Duncan, Tracy Robertson), Tierney Sutton (8): guest vocal; Rob Lockhart, Bob Sheppard, Jeff Driskill: flute, saxophone; Greg Huckins: flute, bass clarinet; Bennie Maupin: bass clarinet (6); Catherine Del Russo: oboe; Phil Feather: oboe, alto flute; Chuck Findley: trumpet, flugelhorn; Amy Hershberger, Ben Hudson, Rafi Rishik, Susan Rishik, Irina Voloshina: violin; Jennie Hansen, Alan Busteed: viola; Andrew Shulman, Armen Ksajikian: cello; Tom Rizzo, Dori Amarillo, Jamie Rosenn: guitar; Edwin Livingston, Kenny Wild, Dominic Genova: bass; Joe LaBarbera, Matt Gordy, Steve Hass: drums; Brian Kilgore: percussion; Lolly Allen, Nick Mancini: vibes; Bevan Manson: piano; Mitchell Manker: French horn.

Title: The Jazz Chamber | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Dash Hoffman Records

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