MAKING A SCENE
by Jim Hynes
Kayle Brecher’s interpretation of the opening “My Favorite Things” lets you know right away that she is a unique, imaginative jazz vocalist. She respects the tradition but is also willing to take some chances. Brecher currently resides in Philadelphia but is a native New Yorker who began her career in her teens singing blues and standards in Greenwich Village clubs. This is her eighth recording in work that’s spanned traditional jazz , free jazz, and experimental music. Here she does all the vocals and did all the arrangements for this mix of about half originals and half imaginative covers. Whether scatting or clearly articulating the lyrics, Brecher delivers masterful vocals and displays quite a range too. It all comes across effortlessly, swing easily with pitch, timing, and diction all spot on.
She renders this music in small configurations, never larger than a quartet, with some like “Shattered” even more minimalist, accompanied just by an acoustic bass. Fifteen musicians are listed in the credits, so the backing musicians change on just about every track. On “My Favorite Things” you’ll likely recognize the chord structure right away and then think “wait a minute.” That’s because she melds the original with that of “Stolen Moments,” making some melodic and harmonic changes along the way, so that she effectively puts her own stamp on it.
Her own “Glad Bag” is filled with short improvisations. Her co-write, “Fruits of the Spirit,” the longest track at close to nine minutes, has a laid-back bass groove ( the bass work on the album is remarkable throughout, featuring four different bassists) , allowing room for inventive solos from guitarist Frank Butrey and pianist Michael Louis Frank. Those two also shine on her “She,” where she paints a tender picture of a homeless woman with Butrey on acoustic guitar providing the mood that Frank steps into gorgeously with his solo that breaks up the vocal parts. The B section of this AABA tune is unusually delayed until after the solo, a compositional device that Brecher favors.
Miriam Ortiz is the co-writer with Brecher on “Something About You” and plays piano while singing harmony with Brecher on the scat passages. It begins with Brecher’s rubato vocal before morphing into a Latin romp. Ratzo Harris’ bass solo is fascinating but as the only instrumentalist on the mournful “Shattered” his judicious choice of notes is even more impressive. David Dzubinski, like Ortiz, is the co-writer and pianist on the well-crafted ballad “Wonders Unfold,” for a friend’s wedding. Bassist Andy Lalasis converses nicely with Dzubinski in the instrumental break. “An Elegant Tale” is another Brecher original and has an Afro-Cuban groove punctuated by Butrey’s sparkling electric guitar with Harris again on bass along with Erik Johnson on drums.
“Gentle Rain” is essentially a voice-guitar duo with Butrey on acoustic and Doc Gibb’s adding just the right dose of percussion. “Sea of Dolphins” is Brecher’s lyric version of Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” with Dr. John Valerio leading the accompanying piano trio. She closes with Lerner and Loewe’s “I Remember It Well,” originally composed as a duet, which she instead turns into a dramatic solo voice, artfully adjusting the lyric, singing rubato and unaccompanied. It’s a fitting way to close, considering how much space she gives her accompanists on the preceding material.
Brecher’s composing and arranging vision is all-encompassing, deeply involving each accompanist. She uses unique chord progressions and modal writing infused with harmonic pull and improvisational passages. Rhythmically she changes it up quite often, employing swing, straight-ahead, and Latin beats. What sets her apart from other vocalists is not just her remarkable, articulate singing but how she places these vocals in the complete context of the piece. This is highly recommended. Once you listen to “My Favorite Things,” you’ll surely want to hear more.