Jazzmeia Horn – A Social Call

Title: A Social Call

Artist: Jazzmeia Horn

Label: Prestige

Formats: CD, MP3

Release date: May 12, 2017


After winning the Theonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition in 2015, vocalist Jazzmeia Horn certainly validated the name assigned by her prescient jazz-loving, church musician grandmother. On her stunning debut recording, A Social Call, the Texas-born singer likewise demonstrates a maturity that belies her age, steeped in the spirit of her idols Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, and Abbey Lincoln.  Horn’s familiarity with jazz vocalists and techniques of the 1950s and ‘60s is showcased throughout the album, but this is not a stroll through memory lane by any means. She is equally comfortable with R&B and gospel music, bringing plenty of contemporary influences to her unique interpretations of the classics.

The album takes its title from the song penned by Gigi Gryce in the 1950s for Betty Carter. Horn excels in this conversational style, creating an extremely fast and nimble arrangement with a teasing tone that keeps the rhythm section on their toes (Victor Gould on piano, Ben Williams on bass, and Jerome Jennings on drums). But the title also reflects Horn’s concerns about current events: “These are not good times. This album is a few things—it’s a call to social responsibility, to know your role in your community. It’s about being inspired by things that happen in your life and being able to touch others.”*

Delving into the very roots of black music, Horn uses spirituals as a source of inspiration, reflecting faith, resistance, protest, and resilience. One of the album’s highlights is a 13 minute medley that melds Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Afro Blue” with Horn’s original poem “Eye See You” and the traditional spiritual “Wade in the Water.”  Opening with over three minutes of primal vocalizations based on West African sounds, the track gradually shifts in space and place, taking listeners on a journey from the motherland to an all-too-familiar present day soundscape. Over the wailing of sirens and chanting of protestors, Horn’s intense poetry speaks of “blood on the pavement, brothers on the corner shackled and chained, stopped and frisked.” As she transitions into an emotionally charged rendition of “Wade in the Water,” one can’t help but recall Billie Holiday or even Nina Simone, who could turn any song into social protest.

Another montage blends an unembellished version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (aka the African American national anthem) with the classic Bobby Timmons’ song “Moanin” which shows off Horn’s scatting technique, extensive vocal range and command of different styles. The band also gets a workout, with solos by trumpeter Josh Evans and bassist Ben Williams.

The remainder of the album mixes jazz classics such as Johnny Mercer’s “I Remember You” and Betty Carter’s “Tight” with jazz-tinged R&B standards. Particular favorites include Horn’s renditions of “Up Above My Head” (Myron Butler’s arrangement) and the Rose Royce Carwash classic “I’m Going Down” that concludes the album.

One fact is obvious from Jazzmeia Horn’s debut album: this woman can sing! A talent like this doesn’t come along very often, and I can’t wait to hear what the future will bring.

*Quote from Concord press release authored by Ashley Kahn.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Tiffany Austin – Nothing But Soul


tiffany austin nothing but soul._SS280

Title: Nothing But Soul

Artist: Tiffany Austin

Label: Con Alma Music

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: June 2, 2015



Jazz vocalist Tiffany Austin’s debut release Nothing But Soul pays tribute to the music of Hoagy Carmichael.  As Carmichael had a law degree but decided to pursue his career in songwriting, so too is Austin a polymath of sorts. She also holds a law degree–from U.C. Berkeley–and has chosen to pursue a career as a jazz vocalist on her own label.  Austin’s Nothing but Soul is full of interesting arrangements of Carmichael’s American Songbook staples– “Stardust” has been covered hundreds, if not thousands, of times, and Austin applies her own unique treatment, alternating bluesy stride piano with instrumental breaks throughout the song’s verses, employing soulful sax accompaniment and a blues-inflected solo from sideman, arranger, and producer Howard Wiley.

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She treats the standards “Skylark” and “Georgia on My Mind” with a similar spirit of innovation, employing a plodding Latin groove on the former, and a neo-soul flavored take on the latter, latching onto the song’s walk down as a vamp for a formidable tag, flavored with soulfully minimalistic vocal improvisation over the vamp.  The most surprising numbers on this album are perhaps those that Austin chose to borrow from Carmichael’s less auspicious career as a vocalist–the band introduces “I May Be Wrong” with Charlie Parker’s arrangement of “Lullaby in Rhythm” played by Wiley, seamlessly weaving the Parker melody into “I May be Wrong.”  The most interesting tune on the album is arguably Austin’s cover of “I Walk the Line.”  Carmichael recorded this song in a way that resembled a slightly sterilized version of Johnny Cash’s original recording, and Austin reinvents the number as a barrelhouse boogie, showcasing pianist Glen Pearson’s formidable blues chops and allowing her rhythm section to stretch out when drummer Sly Randolph lays into his ride cymbal during the piano solo.

Austin’s debut album puts a fresh face on some of the most well-known numbers from the repertoire of one of the most accomplished composers in popular song.  Nothing but Soul is a fascinating release from an already-accomplished talent with the potential to make waves in the jazz world.

Listen on Spotify here.
Reviewed by Matthew Alley



Title: Esperanza
Artist: Esperanza Spalding
Label: Heads Up
Catalog No.: HUCD 3140
Release date: May 20, 2008

Esperanza Spalding is a talented 24 year-old bassist-vocalist on the fast track to fame. With a background of baccalaureate studies at Boston’s Berklee School of Music, the distinction of becoming the youngest person ever to hold a teaching position at the same university, and her second CD release entitled Esperanza, Spalding is attracting excitement on the international level. Beyond her prodigious talent, including bass and vocal scat chops that cannot go unnoticed, Esperanza demonstrates the bassist/singer’s youth on a number of levels.

Esperanza covers a lot of territory: songs performed in English, Spanish, and Portuguese; musical genres or elements thereof derived from jazz, R&B, and Brazilian popular music; and, of course, Spalding’s contrapuntal use of bass and voice. She performs vocally at her best on two Brazilian songs-a newly arranged rendition of Milton Nascimentos’ “Ponta de Areia,” and “Samba em Preludio” by Baden Powell, on which a sensitive Spanish guitar performance by Niño Josele helps to bring out the singer’s more relaxed and sensuous qualities. The sole jazz standard, a medium tempo rendition of “Body and Soul,” is sung in Spanish and contrasts a bass ostinato section with a “straight ahead” (conventional driving-rhythm, small-combo) jazz style and Spalding’s scat singing. It’s not clear why these stylistic choices were made, other than to demonstrate that Spalding and group indeed have the technical skill to pull it off, if not contribute anything special.

The majority of the repertoire comprises Spalding’s compositions. These reflect popular R&B stylesthink Alicia Keys with a touch of jazzand unfortunately this is not Spalding’s strength. In general, jazz vocal nuance is missing and Spalding’s bass playingher strongest talent (at least at this early point of her career)perhaps could have been highlighted more.

A clear display of talent and youth, Esperanza leaves one hoping that the music industry and the public’s hype will not interfere with the time and focus necessary for Spalding to develop naturally and achieve her full potential. That just may be something worth waiting for.

Here is the promotional video for the album (courtesy of Telarc):

Posted by Karen Faye Taborn