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Unaccustomed as we are to hearing Great Britain’s superlative National Youth Jazz Orchestra play a supporting role, it’s for a good cause here — the debut recording of the band’s exciting young vocalist (nineteen years old when the recording was made), Sumudu Jayatilaka — and NYJO performs its assigned tasks with typical dexterity and aplomb. The problem is that the band is much better recorded than Sumudu, thus the lyrics are often hard to comprehend, especially at swifter tempos. Don’t know if it’s the mic, the mix, the venue or what, but the voice is muffled and unclear, which is not how Sumudu sounds in person. There’s a tad too much reverb, and she seems to be singing slightly off–mic. We’re told on the tray card that the band was recorded in December ’98, Sumudu’s vocals added in August ’99, and therein may lie not only the reason for the ensemble’s clarity but for Sumudu’s comparative haziness and the fact that she is sometimes overshadowed by NYJO’s powerful brass and reeds. That’s too bad, for a number of reasons: first, Sumudu is a marvelous self–taught singer, so good that NYJO asked for the chance to record this album with her; second, the songs (all originals by NYJO director Bill Ashton and others) are more often than not spectacular, reminiscent of the Golden Age of popular music and deserving of a much wider audience; third, NYJO really knows how to back a vocalist, showing on every track why it is beyond any doubt the finest young band Great Britain has to offer. I suppose what we’re saying is that Sumudu — whose career is on hold while she attends medical school — is a terrific singer with excellent vocal and emotional range and no annoying mannerisms, NYJO is outstanding, the album is first–class in almost every way. If you don’t mind listening more than once to drink in every word that’s being sung, it should easily satisfy your thirst for vocals that celebrate the good old days when the most widely used four–letter word in popular songs was “l–o–v–e.”
Contact:Stanza Music, 11 Victor Road, Harrow HA2 6PT, United Kingdom; e–mail email@example.com
Track Listing: Who
Personnel: Bill Ashton, Duncan Lamont (track 6), Matt O