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I Hear Sparks: Lauren Hooker – Life of the Music

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Lauren Hooker does what she does because the music “brings out the poetry” in her. She tells us this simple truth on the opening track to her diverse, exciting Life of the Music recording.

I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz vocalists as of late and it’s sometimes hard to tell them apart. With all due respect to the amazingly talented artists out there rotating in and out of my ever-changing playlist, the nature of the craft starts to blend together after a while. It can be hard to provoke something unique.

In the case of Hooker, the singer takes to the arrangements with the right sense of adventure. She takes risks and asks questions, sometimes in the middle of a song. She engages and always engages.

This is evident with startling clarity right from the outset. Jeannette Curtis Rideau’s spoken word and Hooker’s singing highlight the wonderful “Life of the Music/Your Music Brings Out the Poetry in Me.” The piece is an homage in part, but it’s also a statement of intent as she glides between Rideau’s portions and a scorching groove inspired by John Coltrane all in one breath. It’s a bold move, but one she pulls off without looking twice.

The rest of the record rises from this carefully constructed base. Whether she takes on an original piece or pokes around in the American Songbook, Hooker is always the explorer and always the dreamer.

Her own compositions, like the smouldering nightclub number, “If That’s What You Feel,” provide insight to her creative process. The track’s rhythmic quality opens the door for a little risk taking and scat singing, the latter something I’ve not always been a fan of. Hooker, despite my own perhaps-prudish objections to the form, smokes.

Along for the ride are the likes of pianist Jim Ridl and bassist Martin Wind. Scott Robinson lends more than a few horns, while Tim Horner provides the necessary percussion.

Hooker’s take on Joni Mitchell’s “Song to a Seagull” is bent in all the right places. She plays with the edges of her range and almost twists them downward, melting into Mike Richmond’s cello. It’s a haunting piece.

With Life of the Music, Lauren Hooker asserts herself as a true seeker. Hers is a quest few have the guts to take on, admittedly, but her ability to make beauty out of the questions sets her apart from many other similar performers.

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