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Three vocalists take different approaches to the repertoire of their new albums.

Music Reviews: The Ladies Sing Jazz – Maria Jacobs, Judi Silvano, Ellen LaFurn

Maria Jacobs – Here Comes Winter

Here Comes Winter, vocalist Maria Jacobs’ fifth solo album and follow-up to her critically applauded 2013 effort, The Art of the Duo, once again shows the singer putting her special touch to a classic or two, adding some of her own original material, and stretching out with an few pieces you wouldn’t ordinarily expect on a jazz album. Jacobs is a talented singer who can do emotional intensity when called for, but who clearly understands the cliché that often less is more, and can do restraint as well.

Maria JacobsThe standards she covers are a swinging arrangement of Frank Loesser’s “Never Will I Marry” including a little scat interlude and a transformative “Time After Time” with some effective accompaniment from guitarist Bob Fraser and the bass of Brian Wildman.

There are five original tracks, two – “Til’ Forever Comes” and “Fall in Love Again” – where she is the lyricist and the music is composed by Cliff Habian, and three where she is credited with both music and lyrics. She opens the album with the title song and closes it with an assertion of faith, “My God Is Here,” which begins with a keyboard nod to “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Unexpected gems include three Joni Mitchell pieces—“Case of You,” “River” (the plaintive Christmas gem with echoes of “Silent Night”), and the iconic “From Both Sides Now.” Add Brian Wilson’s “In My Room” and you’ve got the makings of another winning album from a fine jazz artist.

Judi Silvano with Michael Abene – My Dance

If Here Comes Winter represents a more typical approach to repertoire, Judi Silvano’s January release, My Dance, takes a much more adventurous route. A joint effort with pianist Michael Abene, the album showcases 11 original Silvano compositions that border on the avant-garde. My Dance is an album uninterested in reinterpreting classic tropes or even reimagining them. My Dance is interested in creating something new with a sound all its own, and even a cursory hearing of the disc’s opener, a track she calls “Dust,” makes it clear she has done just that. From Abene’s piano opening, through Silvano’s vocalise/scat, the album’s direction is set, even as the piano peters out at the end of the track.

Judi SilvanoHer songs are spare. As often as not they communicate more meaningfully without words than they do with them. Silvano may come close to something conventional as in “It’s So Amazing,” but it is when she is most creative that she is at her best.

This is music that makes some demands on listeners, much the way the best jazz artists have always done. Those willing to give it a chance will find it worth their while; those unwilling will be missing out on something truly original.

Check out a trio version of “Dust” on YouTube.

Ellen LaFurn – C’est La-Furn

ellen-lafurnC’est La-Furn, the belated debut album of vocalist Ellen LaFurn, who put a hiatus to her singing career to raise her daughter, takes a more conventional approach with a set of 13 covers of fairly classic material. While her voice has an unusual quality that may take some getting used to, her interpretive approach to the music is spot-on. She does full justice to an uptempo burner like “Cherokee,” and is equally impressive with an evocative ballad like “When Sunny Gets Blue.”

LaFurn is at home with Latin rhythms as she shows with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Dindi,” Bebel Gilberto’s “So Nice (Summer Samba),” and a bossa nova arrangement of “Teach Me Tonight.” She opens the set with a sweet arrangement of “I Remember You” and closes it with “The Days of Wine and Roses” (Mancini/Mercer).

Fronting a quartet featuring the guitar of Vic Cenicola, the piano of Rave Tesar, the bass of Ron Naspo and Patrick Cuttitta on drums, she delivers some very effective readings of the kind of classic material that never seems to get old.

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