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Elissa Lala: Touch of Your Voice: New Takes on Chet Baker

Budd Kopman By

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Elissa Lala has a stunning, sultry, smoking delivery that makes these tunes associated with Chet Baker envelop the listener. Communication is the most important thing to her, and her singing, while pure of pitch and treated with what she calls a "natural" vibrato, speaks directly to the listener in a way that's reminiscent of Betty Carter. Lala almost never leaves a note alone—instead, she bends it, swoops up or down, or changes dynamics in order to bring out every nuance of what a particular word means at the moment.

We are listening to a chanteuse, a torch singer, as if in a small room with the lights low and the members of the audience reluctant to even tinkle their ice cubes. Almost as important as the singer is her accompanist on piano, and Alan Pasqua always picks the perfect chord and just the right fills which allow Lala to float free, knowing that the band can and will follow her. When he gets a chance to solo, Pasqua is understated and yet manages to make strong statements that amplify what has come before and lead to what is to come. The contributions of bassist Darek Oles and drummer Sherman Ferguson should not be minimized, since the it is the sum of the whole band that supports Lala.

The first three tunes are so intense it's almost scary, making the slight release of "Let's Get Lost," with its very Betty Carter-ish intro, quite welcome. Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue," which is new to me, returns to the very slow ballad, with Johnnie Valentino's enhanced guitar harmonics winding around Lala's voice.

The record includes two tunes written by Lala and Valentino, her husband—"I'm Blaming It on Your Heart" and "While You're Away From Me," the latter written for her father after his death. The tunes very much fit the mood of the record and might very well become standards in the repertoire of singers who dare to expose themselves.

Very much a fireplace and brandy record, Touch of Your Voice is a potent reminder that music really is about emotional communication. In the Swing Era, the instrumentalists looked down upon the "birds" in front of the band, but it might have been out of envy at the way a voice, especially one like Lala's, can run emotional rings around any mere instrument.

Track Listing: The Wind; You Don't Know What Love Is; Forgetful; Let's Get Lost; Almost Blue; I've Never Been In Love Before; I'm Blaming It On Your Heart; This Is Always; While You're Away From Me; You're Mine, You.

Personnel: Elissa Lala: vocals; Alan Pasqua: piano; Darek Oles: bass; Sherman Ferguson: drums; Johnnie Valentino: guitar.

Title: Touch of Your Voice: New Takes on Chet Baker | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: OmniTone

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