Kadi Vija has a long history in vocal jazz improvisation and defines herself primarily as a vocal instrumentalist. Vija's music explores sounds from modernism, jazz and electronics, as well as a deep fascination with rhythmic variety. Her work at prestigious institutions such as the Berklee College of Music, Conservatory van Amsterdam and Sibelius Academy has built her status as a current modernist, open to jazz history.
This release, called Ugly Beauty, sees Vija collaborating with pianist Lucas Dann who has studied with Fred Hersch. The album is a repertoire of carefully selected Thelonious Monk tunes. The album includes eight selections and features some great tracks like "Ask Me Now" and "Ugly Beauty," all instrumental pieces performed by Monk but interpreted in an experimental way by Vija who continues to pay homage to the original work.
From the first track to last, Vija scats over the original piano score, played by Dann. "Ask Me Now" from Monks' solo work sets the tone and the narrative for each track. There is a pureness to Vija's voice, reminiscent of Cleo Laine, but performed in Vija's own unique style. In theory, the solo pieces should work musically with just the piano in the original, however, pieces written for a bigger band must be arguably more complicated. For instance, "In Walked Bud," famously performed by Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers featuring Monk's piano playing. This version sees Dann playing the piano score while Vija scats the tune and when played alongside the original, it works just as well but has the added element of Vija's vocal compared to the original which is just an instrumental track.
Overall, this is an experimental and brave body of work taking well-known pieces by the legendary Monk and seamlessly integrating them with strong vocals. Vija delivers a strong set which places her firmly among notable jazz vocalists; a name for the future. If she continues to deliver in this manner, the sky's the limit. For non-believers this one definitely warrants at least two listens to fully appreciate Ugly Beauty's substantial offering.
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