Swingin’ From the Hip is the title of one hell of an impressive debut CD by polymath jazz vocalist, Isabel Rose. This is a woman with talents to spare. She writes essays. She writes a novel. She writes, composes, and stars in an off Broadway musical adaptation of the novel. She writes a movie. She stars in it. And now here she is, backed up at times by a big band, at times by a small combo, making it clear that there is a new voice to be reckoned with on the contemporary jazz scene. Cabaret singers beware: this is a woman who can s(w)ing.
There are a lucky thirteen tracks on the CD - running the gamut from Broadway show tunes to pop and rock classics, and each and every one has the Isabel Rose stamp on it. Her voice is clean and crisp, and she revels in the kind of originality of phrasing that has marked the classic jazz vocalists from Ella and Frank to Tony Bennett and Sarah Vaughn. At times she reminds you of big band swingers like Anita O’Day, but at times she echoes the cooler phrasing of a June Christy. Every once in awhile she throws in a nasal New York phrase that sounds like she’s channeling Barbara Streisand. Still, like the best of them, Rose is a singer who makes a song her own.
The musical menu is varied. “Aquarius” from Hair opens the disc. It starts with a psychedelic intro, morphs into an infectious Latin dance rhythm, and ends with a hip take on the obligatory “Let the Sun Shine In.” A quirky video of the song is available on Rose’s web site.. Irving Berlin’s “Lovely Day” from Call Me Madam follows. Introduced by a few bars of “O, What a Beautiful Morning” from Oklahoma, it has a perky flirtatiousness that Rose seems able to turn on at will.
Her take on Rogers and Hammerstein’s “I Enjoy Being a Girl” has a similar vibe. “Thirteen” shows her grittier side, and her cover of Pat Benetar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” is a raunchy tease. She does some scat singing with the smaller combo on “Haven’t We Met.” She can even do a more or less straight pop take on a song when she wants to, as she does in “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” and “I Only Want to Be With You.” Not only is her choice of material varied, her treatment of the material is as well. Jazz, blues, pop, she’s got it all.
Moreover she’s working with a group of musicians that can swing with the best of them. They excel on every track, but “Lovely Day” shows them off to perfection as does their work on Lerner and Lowe’s “On the Street Where You Live.” The collaboration between the band and the singer on the last of the songs on the CD, “The Best is Yet to Come,” shows just how smoothly they work together. It opens with a laid back orchestration that puts the spotlight on the vocal. About half way through the band gets its opportunity to shine, with some nice work from the trumpet section. Then they come together for a funky conclusion. All the arrangements on the album are the work of Rose and orchestrator, Jeff Klitz, except for Julian Fleisher’s “Haven’t We Met.”
If “The Best is Yet to Come” is in any way a forecast for the future, we’ve sure got something to look forward to.