Talk about keeping it simple, jazz singer/song writer Ellynne Plotnick’s latest album I Will has her singing her vocals with only a guitar and bass accompaniment, and not only does she manage to make it work, she makes it magical. It just goes to show, if you have the voice and if you have the material, you don’t need all that lavish production. To coin a cliché, less is more.
The new album’s ten tracks include three covers and seven original compositions. The covers are excellent, but the originals are something special. Plotnick writes lyrics with the pen of a poet, and she delivers them with cool elegance. “Falling,” which opens the album, plays tantalizingly with the myth of Icarus, the son of Daedelus who donned a set of wings created by his father, but flew too close to the sun. The wax that held the wings together melted. The youth fell to the earth and became legend. Usually thought of as a cautionary tale aimed at over-reaching ambition, Plotnick’s song suggests that flying too high may not be all that bad. The falling woman in her song ends up as a goddess leaving a “broken world.” The more you listen to the lyric, the deeper it grows. It is a good indication of what is to come.
“Rosa Lee” looks at what has become of a girl who “used to chase tornadoes” and “tip the neighbor’s cows” when she is trapped by the hard knocks of life. “Anywhere But Here” is a bluesy take on lost love with some truly original images: “I’m snowblind in the trees/Stumbling through the cold wet dark;” “If your love was a sailboat?/I’d want to be the sea.” Surprisingly since the words are hers, although these last are the lines in the liner notes, when she actually sings them, she changes them slightly. In “Please Forget Me,” a break-up song, she tells the lover to wash her off “like a fake tattoo” and ends ironically by saying forget me, because “I can’t forget you.” These are just a few samples of Plotnick’s prowess with a lyric; each of the seven originals offers examples equally evocative.
Perhaps as important, this is a woman who can sing. She is a mistress of the cool. Her phrasing is stylish. Her voice is crystalline. She is at home with low key blues, Brazilian dance rhythms, and even an almost folksy vibe in the album’s closing song, “I Want a Place in Your Heart.” Her coquettish slyness with “I’m Sorry, I Really Mean It This Time” shows something of her playful side. Moreover, she is as creative with the covers as she is with her own songs. McCartney and Lennon’s “I Will” and the classic “Manha de Carnaval” are handled with appealing assurance.
The stripped down accompaniment is terrific. John Tropea plays guitar and Harvie S handles the bass. They do some exciting solo work on the vocalist’s Latin composition “Sonar Es,” as well as “I’m Sorry, I Really Mean It This Time” and “Please Forget Me,” which also has a little scatting from Plotnick. These are three musicians who work well together. If you like cool jazz singing with songs that will keep you thinking, I Will is an album you’ll want to hear.