Monday, August 6, 2012

Thisbe Vos: a study in dynamics and taste

In an earlier post titled Midnight Blue The (Be)witching Hour: A Study in Tempos I offered an album as a catalog of examples of tempo exercises. Thisbe Vos' album is a catalog of examples of dynamics. The album is titled Sophistication and is not only a great study aid for drummers who want to develop their dunamics and taste, but is enjoyable listening for anyone who loves jazz.

Before describing the album I want to invite your attention to two posts in my other blog called Snare Drum Addict that are germane to this post: Some Quick Tips (tempos and dynamics), and the companion piece, More Quick Tips (fills, dynamics and melody).

Now, about Sophistication: I first stumbled across Ms. Vos when I saw a short video of her singing Frim Fram Sauce, live at The Cicada Club in Los Angeles. I immediately purchased this album, and that is when I discovered that fully half of the tracks are originals. Here is the clip that won me over

When your inaugural album contains some of the best standards and you also include an equal amount of your own work it says one of two things: you are arrogant or you are THAT good. My personal opinion is Ms. Vos is THAT good, and not only can she sing, but her compositions are superb. If they get wide enough dissemination, perhaps her own work will be tomorrow's standards.

Her singing style is hard to pin down, because she manages to tailor her voice to the spirit and intent of each song. In that respect she is a chameleon, but I did hear touches of Sarah Vaughan, Anita O'Day and, surprisingly, some Maria Muldaur in her voice.

Not only is she an artist in her own right, as well as a composer, but her choice of musicians to back her on this album is perfect. I will not pretend to know much about them, but they were perfect on every track. The line-up is: Gary Matsumoto and Larry Flahivedrummer on piano, George Harper on saxophone, Henry Franklin on bass, Nolan Shaheed on trumpet, Geoff Nudell on clarinet and Donald Dean on drums.

I am going to focus more on the original compositions, so my review is not going to follow the track sequence, but, instead, will divide the album into originals and standards.

House of Make Believe starts out with a piano intro that reminds me of Bill Evans' mountain brook sound that Miles Davis wanted on Kind of Blue. The dominant instruments backing Thisbe are piano and saxophone, and the musicians accentuate her sultry rendition. I could hear a touch of Maria Muldaur.

After You've Gone is her own composition and is totally different from the Turner Layton/Henry Creamer song written in 1918 or the same name. Her range and voicing here remind me of Cleo Laine, who could hit any note she wanted. Apparently Ms. Vos can as well.

When I Come To You is a beautiful ballad, while the title song, Sophistication, is a swinging, up tempo piece that had me tapping my foot and smiling. Pordenone has a Cole Porter feel and beautiful trumpet work giving the song a happy, driving feel. I Am All Right has bright tempo and, again, swings like crazy. The call and response between Ms. Vos and Geoff Nudell on clarinet gave the impression that the song was written at the dawn of the swing era. Her voice on this song is lush and her phrasing is impeccable.

Her rendition of standards shows that she is not only well-versed in the Great American Songbook, but also has the chops to perform them credibly. I won't dwell too deeply, but here are some quick impressions:

Frim Fram Sauce: swinging + great phrasing. Nat King Cole would be proud.

Can't Take That Away From Me: Sarah Vaughan did my favorite rendition of this song and Thisbe does it justice.

My Favorite Things: slow, languorous swing with an interesting bass solo. This version has totally different phrasing and tempo than Julie Andrews's familiar 1965 rendition.

Baby Won't You Please Come Home: Thisbe and the ensemble lay down a nice, easy and swinging tempo of this classic. They captured the nineteen teens feel, which was a combination of traditional jazz from that era and ragtime. The added swing modernized the tune, making it fit with the other tracks on this album.

A Foggy Day in London Town: Great rendition. If I were a betting man I would put money on Ms. Vos being exposed to, and influenced by, Anita O'Day.

Our Love Is Here To Stay: Intimate, especially with the piano and the drummer's great brushwork. There is a sweetness and intimacy in Thisbe's voice on this track that is difficult to describe, but her rendition certainly comes close to that I consider to be the "gold standard" rendition, which was done by Dinah Washington. Both renditions are very different, but both are among the best I have heard and this is one of my favorite songs.

What excites me about this album is the seamless manner in which Ms. Vos' own compositions dovetail nicely with the standards on this album. There is a coherent, overarching scheme and feel to the album, which inspires me to closely follow her career and future projects. If she is this good on her inaugural album, imagine where she will be in ten years!

I will close this with some interviews of the personnel on the album:

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