The best of jazz vocal and its perfect expression is where the voice becomes an instrument, on par with frontline instruments such as the sax or trumpet. The finest jazz vocalists know this and go for it: Mark Murphy, Anita O’ Day, Chet Baker, our own Vince Jones. Sinatra too, you can hear his delight when he worked with a small band.
Her new album ‘The Game‘ places her voice in the perfect setting – a dream-team ensemble also made up of the finest: pianist Greg Coffin, Jeremy Sawkins on guitar and the rhythm section of Brendan Clarke and Nic Cecire. All the compositions are hers, bar the opener (the Bricusse-Newley gem ‘Pure imagination’) and a co-write with Dave Panichi, the lovely ballad Ruby.
The ballad can sometimes seem the domain of the jazz vocalist more than any other instrument (apologies to Johnny Hodges) and ‘Ruby’ is as good as they come – a gorgeous example of the form with Coffin’s telepathically simpatico piano painting notes behind Delaney-Brown’s vocal, then rising to a beautiful considered solo.
‘Birds’ is a wordless evocation of the murmuration of starlings. Sawkins’ gut-string solo here has that lovely balance of the classic and the modern that pervades the playing across the whole album, grounding it, yet giving it the wings this music needs.
‘Face of The Bass’ is a strutting blues that features Clarke’s tough bass, breaking into a startling bass/vocal scat duet that leaps out before chilling back down to that bad (good) groove. Across ‘The Game’ the vocal scat (in duet and solo) is exquisite, always intriguing, never empty histrionics.
The second ballad on ‘The Game’ is the lovely ‘Simple Feast’. Here, as on the Bacharach-David flavoured title track, ‘The Game’, Delaney-Brown’s sense of pop classicism is apparent – lyrics that write short stories, bittersweet, over a musical ground that is sophistication without empty virtuosity.
We go out on the almost-too-hip groove of ‘Wachagot’. A rolling piece of funk propelled by a jagged vocal riff, this one really shows drummer Cecire in his element – flawless touch, earthy sense of groove.
But it is Trish Delaney-Brown that shines over ‘The Game’. The album offers proof of her perfect grasp of jazz singing; a challenging range of expression through its multiplicity of textures – from blues to latin-funk to urbane pop and back home to the jazz and the jazz ballad. if you want to hear how good it gets, take a listen.