NIGHTSHADE / CLABURN: Lionheart. My Favorite Flavor. The Fall of Man. Colors of Light. Steal Away. METHENY-CLABURN: Bird on a Wire. ELLINGTON-CLABURN: Echoes of Harlem. EVANS-LEES: Turn Out the Stars. CREAMER-LAYTON: After You’ve Gone. CARMICHAEL-MERCER: Skylark. B. CARTER: I Can’t Help It. SHELBY-CLABURN: Daybreak / Andrea Claburn, vocalist; Matt Clark, pno/Fender Rhodes; Sam Bevan, bs/el-bs; Alan Hall, dm; John Santos, perc; Terrence Brewer, gtr/el-gtr; Erik Jekabson, tpt/fl-hn; Kasey Knudsen, a-sax; Teddy Raven, t-sax; Rob Ewing, tbn; Mads Tolling, vln/vla; Joseph Hébert, cello / Lot 49 Labs (no number; available January 13, 2017 on Amazon, iTunes & CD Baby)
Andrea Claburn, a California-based jazz singer who studied first with Raz Kennedy and then at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, here makes her recording debut in an album that will apparently not be available until January 2017. Claburn is quoted as saying that she previously resisted the pressure to record because she didn’t feel ready to transform the ideas in her mind into music: she “didn’t want to just do songs and arrangements written by other people. I had my own concepts.” Perhaps this is because Claburn came from a musical family and a classical background, beginning the piano at age six and violin at age eight.
The immediate impression one gets from the opening track of this album is that Claburn has a generic female jazz singer tone but a better-than-average grasp of style. She doesn’t just swing with the voice, she employs stress beats in unexpected places, increases and decreases volume, and even changes color in the voice. This last-named is probably the most difficult skill to acquire; it’s the sort of thing that only classical singers, and normally only the very best classical singers, can do, but Claburn uses these shades and colors to drive home the music time and again. For the most part she leans “back” on the beat when she sings, only alternating to pushing it when she opens up the volume and changes color.
For this reason I consider her more of a musician than a “singer.” To my ears, Claburn’s highly instrumental use of her voice is far more interesting than her interpretation of lyrics. Indeed, she could have sung these pieces as vocalese and still be riveting to hear. The accompanying musicians are all very fine and very professional, but not quite as emotionally involved with the material as Claburn. That being said, pianist Matt Clark was excellent throughout and I loved some of these arrangements, all of which were written by Claburn—particularly her calypso-styled version of My Favorite Flavor, where the use of the horns is highly skilled and interesting to hear, and her ska-colored version of After You’ve Gone. In the latter, she adds beats between the words to make it fit the new rhythm…very clever indeed! Despite his coolness of tone, trumpeter Erik Jekabsen plays a wonderful Bobby Hackett-type solo on this track.
Of the 12 songs on this album, five were written by Claburn herself and three others are instrumentals to which she added lyrics. Of these, I was most curious to hear what she could do with the relatively early Ellington piece, Echoes of Harlem. This has been modified from the original by relaxing the beat, adding a Latin flavor and extending the length of certain notes within each phrase by means of Claburn’s vocal dexterity. She also introduces some beat-shifts in the last two choruses that were quite surprising to hear.
Claburn does her best interpreting, and ballad singing, on the Bill Evans-Gene Lees song Turn Out the Stars (one of those tunes on which Clark excels in his solo, albeit channeling early Evans when he was storngly influenced by Tristano). Hoagy Carmichael’s Skylark, which the late bop clarinetist Buddy de Franco often said was the most harmonically sophisticated song of its time, is ripe for Claburn’s particular brand of musical transformation. She adds even a few little harmonic twists of her own to the ends of phrases that aren’t in Carmichael’s original—and as usual, she changes the rhythm, making it more complex while still retaining a relaxed, fluid movement.
Betty Carter’s I Can’t Help It is her most straightforward tune on the album in terms of a standard 4/4 swing beat, and there’s a nice duet between Jekabsen on muted trumpet and Sam Bevan on bass before another fine Clark piano solo. As a follow-up, her own tune The Fall of Man is taken at a nice medium tempo but also swings in a nice, relaxed way. Teddy Raven plays a nice tenor sax solo on this one, too. Daybreak is a jazz waltz in which Bevan gives us a modern-day take on Slam Stewart’s proclivity to sing along with his bass solos. Colors of Light is a bossa nova dedicated to Claburn’s daughter, charmingly sung, while the finale to the album, Steal Away, is described as a “meditation on life, loss, and the ephemeral nature of existence.” On this track she is accompanied by Mads Tolling on viola and violin and Joseph Hébert on cello in addition to Jekabson on flugelhorn and her regular rhythm section, which gives this song an entirely different flavor. The melody is a bit ambiguous yet fairly simple; it’s the harmony and instrumental texture that is unconventional, as well as the slow waltz beat. Despite its surface simplicity, the song is haunting; snippets of it will be floating around in your head long after the album is finished.
This is one of the most auspicious recording debuts for a jazz singer I’ve heard since Sophie Dunér’s The City of My Soul. Highly recommended.
—© 2016 Lynn René Bayley