Three Female Vocalists: Sara Gazarek, Stevie Holland & Fay Claassen

C. Michael Bailey By

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We are enjoying an embarrassment of riches in the area of female jazz vocals. There's a lot of wheat out there, and some chaff. Here's some of the whole grain.

Sara Gazarek
Native Language

Left-coast jazz vocalist Sara Gazarek's voice is as mature and perfectly balanced as the accompaniment of her piano trio. Mature, considering Gazarek is still only in her middle 20s, and already sounding fully formed. A nominal alto, Gazarek displays an effortless singing style that is both adventuresome and conservative. "My Shining Hour illustrates this: the tune may be conservative, but the performance is compelling. Pianist Joshua Nelson provides two tight originals, "Yours and "Amazing, among a program focused on standards. Gazarek convincingly performs these originals, contributing her own in "You Got By, written with bassist Erik Kertes. All three compositions are smartly crafted, jazz-adult contemporary crossover.

Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye is the American songbook passed through a Jobim lens, propelled by a bossa bass line. The combination of the Beatles' "Blackbird and Ray Henderson's "Bye, Bye Blackbird gives the recording a more modern edge, with Kertes' arco bass providing the lilt. Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game is given a decidedly gospel introduction, sliding into the beautiful folk melody. "You are My Sunshine is almost funky, the piano full of church and a loping bass (reminiscent of the late Gene Harris).

Sara Gazarek is a muscular singer arriving just in time. Her chops and wit are well showcased in this simple trio format, one that suits her well.

Stevie Holland
More Than Words Can Say
150 Music

Stevie Holland's previous recording, Restless Willow, demonstrated Holland's confident grace and the delicacy of her voice. On More Than Words Can Say, Holland pulls out the stops and blows the carbon from her pipes...with strings. She torches the place with the Ram/Rand standard "Only You. Building through the first chorus, Holland, propelled by piano, organ, and tenor, allows her voice to spread to all its edges, increasing both the temperature and the humidity.

Rather than turn the acetylene down, Holland breaks the knob off on high and propels Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays, igniting pianist Martin Bejerano to deliver an incendiary solo. Then she pulls back, cushioned by strings, in her delivery of the ballad "If Ever I Would Leave You, nudging Bejerano back into plaintive piano thoughtfulness.

Holland proves as capable with contemporary material as standards. She dispatches Kenny Loggins/Michael McDonald's "This is It readily, leaving just enough pop to jettison the disc into the adult contemporary market, where it would be welcomed. The Holland/Neil Wolfe original, "Firefly floats above Hans Glawischnig's vehicular waltzing bass line. Holland further proves the capable lyricist on the shiny seasonal "Evening Song (music composed by Gary William Friedman). Stevie Holland is beginning to come into her own. It should be our good fortune as listeners to witness.

Fay Claassen
Two Portraits Of Chet Baker
Munich Records

Dutch vocalist Fay Claassen takes on the formidable subject of Chet Baker on her new disc Two Portraits of Chet Baker, celebrating the late singer's 75th birthday on December 23. The significance of "Two Portraits is that the first disc of this two-disc set is devoted to Claassen's vocalese interpretation of Baker's trumpet, on a selection of songs from Gerry Mulligan's pianoless quartet.

These instrumental interpretations include "Walkin' Shoes, "Jeru, "Godchild, and "Nights At The Turntable. Claassen's vocal control is considerable, more than holding her own as foil to Jan Menu's baritone saxophone. Much is revealed between singer and saxophonist on the two versions of "Line for Lions that bookend this first disc. The first is a swinging, full-band treatment and the second a plaintive yet compelling duet. The duet is interesting in its means of illuminating the true counterpoint Mulligan and Baker used in their quartet.

The second disc has Claassen singing Chet Baker and all of the usual suspects are here. Chet Baker, more than most jazz vocalists, assembled a songbook whose elements are most often associated almost exclusively with him. Claassen delivers "I Fall In Love Too Easily, "I Remember You, and "My Funny Valentine with the same arid pathos as Baker, except in the higher register. Claassen is less detached in the Baker songbook than Baker— but could any singer be more detached than Chet Baker? "Let's Get Lost comes off as a Baker female counterpart with Claassen's almost impatient delivery.

Claassen and company depart the Baker camp with the upbeat "Look For The Silver Lining, which is carried by Claassen and trumpeter Jan Wessels. "Blame It On My Youth proves a perfect closer, both in Claassen's performance and the recollection of the dense paradox that was Chet Baker. What will most likely be the first of many Baker tributes, Two Portraits Of Chet Baker could well be the smartest.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: My Shining Hour; Yours; Amazing; Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye; Cheek To Cheek; You Got By; Blackbird/Bye Bye Blackbird; The Circle Game; All Or Nothing At All; Too Young To Go Steady; You Are My Sunshine.

Personnel: Sara Garazek: vocals; Josh Nelson: piano; Erik Kertes: bass; Matt Slocum: drums.

More Than Words Can Say

Tracks: Only You; Yesterdays; If Ever I Would Leave You; This Is It; Lovingly; By Myself; Firefly; Day By Day; He Says Murder; Evening Song; Desafinado; More Than Words Can Say.

Personnel: Stevie Holland: vocals; Martin Bejerano, Kris Davis: piano; Hans Glawischnig, Rob Jost: bass; Einar Scheving, Jeff Davis: drums; Sean Harkness: guitar; Ole Mathisen: saxophone.

Two Portraits Of Chet Baker

Tracks: CD1: Line For Lions; Swinghouse; First Song; Turnstile; Walking Shoes; Ponciana; Jeru; Love Me Or Leave Me; Godchild; Nights At The Turntable; Frenesi; Soft Shoe; Line For Lions. CD2: I Fall In Love Too Easily; I Remember April; My Funny Valentine; Let's Get Lost; He Was Too Good To Me; The Touch Of Your Lips; The Thrill Is Gone; Look For The Silver Lining; Retrato (Portrait In Black & White); Almost Blue; Conception/Deception; Blame It On My Youth.

Personnel: Fay Claasen: vocals; Jan Menu: baritone saxophone; Jan Wessels: trumpet; Karel Boehlee: piano; Hein Van De Geyn: bass; John Engles: drums.

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