Voice choices

By JON GARELICK  |  November 19, 2007

“Yeah, Cole Porter is I guess the most obvious comparison,” says Tomlinson. “He has an easy way of introducing wit into the songs. And the whole concept of the Ice Hotel is Cole Porter–esque. But I think it also fits Stacey, because she does have an almost hot-and-cold kind of persona — a very intense emotional experience presented in a very non-dramatic, very cool way.” Here Tomlinson also showed his acumen as an arranger, setting a song about hot emotion and an ice-cold environment as a bossa nova.

Tomlinson’s chord progressions have a classic Great American Songbook feel — the kind of tunes that have been manna for jazz musicians for more than 50 years. But he and Kent don’t discriminate among contemporary pop and classic pop — the new album includes Stevie Nicks’s “Landslide” as well as the three French-language pieces: two songs by Serge Gainsbourg (“Ces petits riens,” “La saison des pluies”) and “Samba Saravá” from Un homme et une femme|A Man and a Woman. Add standards like “Hard-Hearted Hannah” and an understated “What a Wonderful World” tinged with melancholy and the persona that comes across is that of the romantic cosmopolitan. “I think the Great American Songbook made a lot of sense to me,” Kent says of her introduction to jazz. “It fit who I was as a person. It’s terribly romantic in there, and I like that.”

Julie Hardy grew up in Fremont, New Hampshire, went to UNH, then New England Conservatory — from classical pianist to classical singer to jazz singer. She was also a composer, and her own ah-ha moment of identification was an instrumental — Wayne Shorter’s 1964 album Speak No Evil. Until then she’d been listening to earlier bop and hard bop — Parker, Monk, the ’50s Miles Davis Quintet with John Coltrane. But on Speak No Evil, “the harmonies are different, the way the band plays is different, the way Elvin Jones plays, the way people improvise. I was really excited about that.”

On The Wish (World Culture Music), Hardy includes her own songs with lyrics; she even writes lyrics for Shorter’s “Song of the Iris.” But she also excels at wordless vocal improvisations, using her voice like a horn in arrangements that pair her in unison figures with the other instruments, or send her off in contrapuntal improvisation with them. She was already an accomplished jazz singer and writer on 2005’s A Moment’s Glance (Fresh Sounds) — she won an ASCAP Young Composer award for that CD’s “No Turning Back.” But the writing on the new album is even more adventurous, creating inventive settings not only for her voice but for the band (saxophonists Jaleel Shaw and Sam Sadigursky, guitarist Ben Monder, pianist Randy Ingram, bassist Matt Clohesy, and drummer Kendrick Scott). Whereas the music of Kent and Tomlinson is swing-oriented, The Wish rides on long waves of rhythmic turbulence and post-Coltrane harmonic shifts. The “wordless story” of Hardy’s suite carries her through all the experiences of a young jazz musician in New York — hope to frustration to fantasy, “On the Verge” to “Patience” to “Soaring.”

And Hardy’s voice has gained weight since the previous disc — it has more breath support in all registers, and that in turn gives the material more emotional heft. Even the Beatles’ “I’m Looking Through You” has specific jazz velocity and depth, with a ripping alto solo from Shaw.

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