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One of the pleasures of hearing debut albums from aspiring jazz singers is to get an inkling of who the real talents are. In the case of Abigail Riccards, she clearly has a future.
Riccards has already accumulated several honors. She was the recipient of two awards from Down Beat Magazine for outstanding collegiate singer, as a student, in 2002 and 2004. She also earned a semi-finalist role in the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocal Competition. In 2006, she toured the Middle East performing for a week in Yemen for the United States State Department.
It would be a misleading statement to say that all but one of these dozen tunes was popularized decades before Riccards was born. But, in a sense, her refurbishing of many of them ensures that new vocalists will always find something new to inject into a performance of timeless songs from the Great American Songbook, including Burke/Van Heusen's "But Beautiful," Brooks Bowman's "East of the Sun" and the heartache shared by all aspiring jazz singers on Robin and Ranger's "If I Should Lose You."
The real secret to success in a finished product is the assembled musicians and this is a perfect example, with pianist David Berkmanwho arranged half of the tunesbassist Ben Allison and drummer Matt Wilson, a veritable colorist on the pots and pans. Trumpeter/flugelhornist Ron Horton, reedman Adam Kolker, youthful guitarist Lage Lund and percussionist Rogerio Boccato round out the ensemble.
There are some surprises in Riccards' delivery. Ray Nobles' "The Very Thought of You" is given a medium tempo instead of the usual balladic pace, and "It Might as Well Be Spring," from Rodgers and Hammerstein, has a bit of underlying tension not usually heard. Riccards' exemplary take on Billie Holiday/Mal Waldron's "Left Alone" would likely get a nod of approval from Lady Day and Abbey Lincoln, who share the honors of having that composition nailed to the nearest studio wall. Horton tops off this track with a just-right solo. The classic "East of the Sun" is taken at mid-tempo, with the entire ensemble contributing, while Riccards insinuates the lyrics between the cracks.
Track Listing: But Beautiful; East of the Sun; The Very Thought of You; You Don
Personnel: Abigail Riccards: vocals; David Berkman: piano, organ; Ben Allison: bass; Matt Wilson: drums; Adam Kolker: woodwinds; Ron Horton: trumpet, flugelhorn; Lage Lund: guitar; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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