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Have you ever been in a club, or sat listening to a live recording, when a tenor saxophonist blows a solo in the middle of a standard, and it stays pretty much faithful to the theme for a bit, then stretches out into some unexpected – beautifully so – variations of theme, while still hanging onto it? A small, gorgeous musical surprise that makes someone in the audience moan: "Oh!" And a beat latter he sighs: "yeah..."
I found myself doing this with Madeline Eastman's The Speed of Life, at least a couple of times per tune. While a tenor player does it with notes, Madeline Eastman does it with syllables strung together into distinctive phrases. No tenor here; it's the vocalist who's eliciting these responses, with a distinctive and personal style of phrasing and intonation on a set of mostly standards – and, wisely, not the ones you hear every day.
I'm a believer – to an extent – of first impressions, and Eastman's disc, on an intitial listen, made me me think of Sinatra, not because she's covering a few of the songs that Old Blue Eyes preferred. Or because she sounds like him. She doesn't. But man, has she developed a personal and very engaging style of phrasing a lyric, matched with a delivery that is seemingly effortless. A palpable self-confidence, a Sinatra-esue aplomb. I doubt she wears a fedora tilted at a rakish angle, but that's the attitude that comes across. Sometimes she whispers, or purrs, or chats confidentially, and sometimes she just belts it out. Forthrightness – another Sinatra attribute – seems to be her stock in trade.
The Speed of Life showcases Eastman's vocal talent in front of a superb quartet (and sometimes quintet, with an additional percussionist) anchored by bassist Rufus Reid's big, round, assertive sound. He seems a perfect and stolid musical soulmate for Eastman. Pianist Randy Porter uses a less-is-more approach, leaving astutely placed silences for Eastman to fill.
Eastman has developed quite an original sound with a great vocal range. Mix up Carmen McRae's chops (and a touch of Carmen's attitude) and some Billie Holiday with a dash or two of Ella (though her scatting is not Ella-like at all). Six of the twelve selections on the disc are Richard Rogers tunes, including an almost hip-hop version of "Do I Hear a Waltz" which features Reid's rubbery bass lines puntuated by Akira Tana's snappy rat-ta-tat drums, sliced through with Mike Olmos' muted trumpet work – showing those hip-hop guys how it should be done. The rather subtle Rodgers/Hammerstein gem "We Kiss in a Shadow" starts out a wistful and clandestine mood that gradually swells to a bold proclamation of forbidden love.
It's a crowded field, but this is one of the finest lady vocalist discs of the year.
Track Listing: Alone Together, Someday We'll All Be Free, Do I Hear a Waltz, Up on the Roof, There's a Small Hotel, We Kiss in a Shadow, Dancing on the Ceiling, Wait Till You See Her, If I Should Lose You, Get Happy, Jogral, Where or When
Personnel: Madeline Eastman--vocals; Randy Porter--piano; Rufua Reid--bass; Akira Tana--drums; Mike Olmos--drums; with Michael Spiro--percussion
I was first exposed to jazz while learning to play chess with my uncles. They would play smooth jazz, and then switch up to more standard types of jazz. But, when they played Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, I was
hooked and I haven't looked back.