A triple-threat musician with significant talent as a vocalist, composer and arranger, Susan Tobocman
's path to jazz was an unconventional one. Her early interest in poetry led to a scholarship that took her from her hometown, Detroit, to New York, for study at Columbia University. That in turn led to an interest in musical theater, followed by a stint managing the Jimi Hendrix
-founded Electric Lady Studios, and then some touring work with the Tom Tom Club. Only afterward, during her early 30s, did the jazz bug finally bite. And four albums later, Touch & Go
shows her long musical journey to have been well worthwhile.
Tobocman's choice of material is itself evidence of her musically omnivorous tendencies. Standard jazz fare is present, like George Gershwin
's "The Man I Love" and Irving Berlin
's "What'll I Do," and Tobocman's own compositions are solidly in the jazz vein, often with a bit of Latin flair, as on the graceful "Leaves of Absence" and the bossa nova-based "The Way to You." But she also offers an affecting version of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman," along with a couple intriguing takes on early Lennon/McCartney ("Help!"), and if that weren't enough, a jazz waltz-inflected "You Only Live Twice," a clever cover of the James Bond theme. It's a testament to Tobocman's arranging skills that each of these pieces feels distinctively hers, their diverse stylistic origins subsumed by her smart, listener-friendly jazz instincts.
Tobocman's warm alto is perfect for conveying the emotional content of her music. She's not a particularly flashy singer, but her phrasing is quite creative, capable of doing justice to the deep longing at the heart of "Wichita Lineman" and the playful spiritedness of "The Man I Love." And her musical chops extend well beyond her abilities as a vocalist, as two of her compositions, "Leaves of Absence" and the album's title track, don't even feature vocals; yet the music stands on its own, with well-designed melodies and lots of room for Tobocman's band to shine.
And what a band it is. Guitarist Pete McCann
, who gets co-producing credit here with Tobocman, has worked with the singer for years, and his versatility, whether on acoustic or electric guitar, is consistently valuable. Joel Frahm
brings his characteristically lyrical sensibility, with his floating soprano sax on "Leaves of Absence" being especially memorable. Pianist Henry Hey
, bassist Matt Pavolka
and drummer Michael Sarin
provide the rhythmically nimble foundation for Tobocman's music. And with cellist Dave Eggar
adding richness to several of the tracks his winsome contributions to "Wichita Lineman" and "Help!" are crucialTobocman has all she needs to bring these imaginative arrangements to life.
Tobocman has clearly found her musical home in the world of jazz, and this promising release should bring her much wider attention.
What'll I Do; Wichita Lineman; The Man I Love; Make Believe; Leaves Of Absence; Help! ; I Could Get Used To This; The Way To You; Touch & Go; Where Is Love?; You Only Live Twice; Help! (Alternate Take).