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I first encountered Barbara Sfraga on Oh, What a Thrill (Naxos Jazz), where I reflected upon the singer's remarkably broad-ranging, sensual, evocative voice. Under the Moon does not change that impression at all. Sfraga was more than bold on Oh, What a Thrill by coupling "Angel Eyes" with "Sunshine of Your Love." She has nothing so bold in her repertoire here, but her vocals remain fresh and exciting. Ms Sfraga is no newcomer, but her new album shows her more comfortable and more probing than on her previous releases. Most notable is the inclusion of John McLean on guitar and the lack of a piano. Though not perfectly interchangeable, a guitar-led band does has its advantages to one led by a piano, and Under the Moon illustrates this point amply.
Ms. Sfraga and Mr. McLean are almost on equal footing on this recording. His guitar sounds beautifully acoustic one moment, Bill Frisell steel guitar-like the next ("Mood Indigo") and standard jazz the next ("You've Changed"). "Stardust" is a towering achievement; setting the tone for the justification that standards are here to be interpreted and re-interpreted. Just when the most callous critic thinks s/he has heard it all, a disc like this comes along and blasts the contemporary wisdom ship from the water.
Ms. Sfraga employs all of the freedom offered by the 1960s Miles Davis Quintet, Betty Carter, and post bop sovereignty. She loosens the binds on the music and allows the muse to flow throughout Under the Moon. Just then I though I had wrapped up my end-of-the-year-list, a masterpiece has come under the wire.
I love jazz because it mixes intellect and emotion in a very spontaneous way.
I was first exposed to jazz by liberating a Coltrane and a Pharoah Sanders record from a friend in NYC and listening to them over and over until I got it.
My advice to new listeners is you have to take the time to listen to some jazz tunes a number of times until it starts to make sense.