Laura Campisi’s Debut Album Fascinating

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DOUBLE MIRROR / CAMPISI: Chorus Angelorum. Luckier.2 Ironman.3 The More You Know. Here Where I Stand.4 Al Risveglio.5 Morningside.6 PORTER: Love for Sale.1 GUDMUNDSDOTTIR: Hyperbalad. DAVIS: Nardis. GERSHWIN-HEYWARD: I Loves You, Porgy. REED: Venus in Furs. BUCKLEY-LUCAS: Mojo Pin / Laura Campisi, voc; Ameen Saleem, bs; Gianluca Renzi, el-bs; Greg Hutchinson, Flavio Li Vigni, dm; 1Zach Brock, vln; 2Giovanni Falzone, tpt; 3Jonathan Scales, steel pan; 4Martin Pantyrer, bar-sax; 5Vincent Herring, a-sax; 6Emilio D. Miller, perc / Privately produced CD, no number

Laura Campisi is an Italian-American jazz singer who was born in Sicily. This is her debut release, and although she doesn’t have a conventional singing voice (as, for instance, Sophie Dunér does) she has a great sense of style. She uses her voice like an instrument, moving it around the beat in a manner similar to Sheila Jordan. So much is evident in the opening track, her self-composed Chorus Angelorum in which she duets with acoustic bassist Ameen Saleem to nice effect. In the second number, Cole Porter’s classic Love for Sale, she completely reworks the song rhythmically, introducing a strong feeling of funk jazz and upping the temperature by a few degrees.

Saleem is really an outstanding bassist, supporting the singer, following her through whatever changes she chooses and providing some outstanding solos both plucked and bowed. Violinist Zach Brock gives the Porter song a bit of a Stuff Smith or Ray Nance interpretation, which lifts it out of the ordinary.

As you can see from the above header, seven of the 13 songs are originals. Campisi is a good tune writer, finding attractive melodies which she then sets to unusual rhythms. My only real caveat was about her English pronunciation, which is good but not quite clear enough for me to understand all the lyrics, and these are not provided in a booklet with the CD. A good language coach can fix that, however. For me it was more important that she swings and is a first-rate arranger. Just listen, for instance, to the weird introduction she gave to Miles Davis’ Nardis, leading eventually into a highly original treatment of his mid-‘60s tune. She almost deconstructs the piece, taking it apart and putting it back together like a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces not quite matching up.

The various guest soloists perform above a cushion of drums and two bassists (one acoustic and one electric). It’s unusual to hear such a configuration: the ear is so used to having a piano for support that the idea of two bassists sounds a bit strange. But Jordan also performed for decades with just a solo bass for support, so it’s not entirely rare in jazz.

As the album proceeded, Campisi’s singing retreated further down in volume until it became whispery. This, I believe, is a mistake. There are about eight million female jazz singers who sing like this. I’m much more interested in her ability to swing and use the voice like an instrument; that is her strength. Happily, after a whispered I Loves You, Porgy she goes back to her hipper, edgier style in the self-penned Here Where I Stand (unfortunately, I couldn’t make most of the words out).

All in all, Campisi has fine talent, some of which is in full flower and some of which needs a bit of work. This is, however, an extremely interesting debut disc and I wish her well!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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