Andrea Wolper’s Parallel Lives could not have a better title. Her first recording since 2005’s The Small Hours, this album smartly illustrates the vastness of talent lying within the former president of International Women in Jazz.
Wolper, who is also one-third of the improvising trio TranceFormation, is more than a competent singer set to standards and jazz traditions. She is an audacious artist, one unafraid of making mistakes in the heart of discovery. Her Parallel Lives tell us that there’s more to musical rides than going through the motions and ticking off the boxes.
Wolper’s vocals come backed by some of New York’s best musicians. Michael Howell (guitar), Kris Davis (piano), Ken Filiano (bass), and Michael TA Thompson (soundrhythium) carry the songs with integrity, giving Wolper room to stretch her wings in a comfortable environment.
“As everyone knows, having the right traveling companions is crucial,” she notes. “And as every musician knows, there’s nothing like playing with your band, people with whom you develop understanding and trust.”
That trust shines through on songs like Joni Mitchell’s “Song to a Seagull.” Wolper opens with tender acapella before she’s joined by gentle piano. As the instruments encase her, the comfort level is tangible and Wolper gains energy. She stretches notes gracefully, breathing just the right amount of life into each phrase.
Wolper tackles Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Maple Sugar Boy,” a pensive piece that comes with a slightly bluesy pulse. And “Be Cool,” another Joni Mitchell song, is imaginatively condensed with an exciting, impressively wild sequence of scat-singing.
Wolper’s own compositions are worthy of note, too. There’s the spring-infused “The Girls in Their Dresses,” a song that lets Davis stretch out on the ivories, and “Waiting for Winter,” a slinky, sexy portion of lounge-kissed magic that packs a hip guitar solo from Howell.
“I live somewhat ‘parallel lives’ as a singer in that my musical interests range widely,” Wolper explains. “Like so many other jazz singers, I started with standards…But through the years, doing all sorts of gigs living in New York…I came to realize there was no reason not to widen my embrace to all sorts of music.”
Whether she’s belting out her own compositions or singing Duncan Sheik (“Blue Wind”), Andrea Wolper offers the impression that she truly does “embrace all sorts of music.” She flouts genre limitations, singing songs for the love of it and delivering an inventive, thrilling, appealing musical vision with her Parallel Lives.