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Nicole Saphos' recording celebrates the nostalgic structures of early 20th century music, even dipping modern folk pop tunes into its legendary pot.

Music Review: Nicole Saphos – ‘Tiptoe’

Bassist, songwriter, and swing-endowed vocalist Nicole Saphos embraces bopping grooves on her new self-release, Tiptoe. A combination of jazz standards, originals, and folk pop melodies retooled with bopping grooves, the recording depicts an array of dreamy visions and melancholy moods with lyrical themes that show how love sweeps one up in the air and can plunge one into the depths of disillusionment.

tiptoe_cover_final_The sensual swagger of Saphos’ vocals surfing casually along the “Lady Hip’s Great Escape” is clad in John Lee’s reverberating guitar chords as drummer Ele Rubenstein furnishes the gentle beat. Her treatment of Fiona Apple’s “Hot Knife” dresses up the folk pop melody with a hot jazz rhythm equipped with jungle beats and a jaunty vamp in the guitar patterns. The razzmatazz trimmings are reminiscent of Prohibition era musicals like Porgy and Bess and Showboat. The tune’s characteristics are reflective of the pulsating cadence and frothy  grooves heard in the halls of the Cotton Club and composed by vaudeville-inspired artists like Mary Lou Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, and Anita O’Day.

The breathy tone of the bass bellowing through “Moon Ray” shrouds Saphos’ vocals in a dimly lit atmosphere, accentuating the erotic nuances of her voice as she muses, “Once we knew the joy / Of girl in love with boy / But he made a toy of romance / So moon ray / Put an end to all my sorrows / Bring back my love to me.” An Artie Shaw signature piece, “Moon Ray” is a classic jazz standard that integrates the bluesy mood of a broken heart with the hopeful wishes of a dreamer. The two traits are symbolic of the straight-ahead jazz arc.

Keeping in line with the straight-ahead jazz template, the lowlit shimmers of Lee’s guitar riffs coasting along “Ugly Beauty” give Saphos a foundation for some impromptu scatting, then shift to clusters of improvised ruminations floating across “You Don’t Know What Love Is” as her vocal chops soar above the meandering riffs.

A student of the classic motifs in jazz, swing, blues, and bebop styles, Nicole Saphos shows her range as an emotive vocalist. Her recording celebrates the nostalgic structures of early 20th century music, even dipping modern folk pop tunes into its legendary pot.


NIcole Saphos – upright bass and vocals, John Lee – guitar, Ele Rubenstein – drums


“Just One of Those Things,” “Broken Ballerina,” “Say It Isn’t So,” “Custom Memories,” “Lady Hip’s Great Escape,” “Moon Ray,” “Doesn’t Do,” “Ugly Beauty,” “You Don’t Know What Love Is”

About susanfrancesny

Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in eastern Long Island.

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