Fasten your seatbelts! Nine well-established old standards are hardly the same old/same old in New Sounds from the Jazz Age, a collection that earns the declaration of its title. Within even the shorter tracks, there are frequent surprises, sudden gear shifts, twists and turns of tempo and tone to trigger astonishment and admiration for the facility and fertile output of singer Lizzie Thomas, fabulously forceful veteran pianist/arranger/musical director John Colianni, and band. Shining instrumental contributions include guitarists (Russell Malone or Matt Chertkoff) and atmosphere-enhancing clarinet on two cuts (Felix Peikli). With complex charts, busy instrumental work, and juicy singing that confidently swings, swoops and pounces, recorded with all parties live in the same room (rather than in isolation booths, and not allowing overdubs or tweaks), this is a medal-worthy Olympics of jazz performances.
The vocalist comes off as a strong musical master of all she surveys, grabbing and owning the material with a determined fierceness that also allows some playfulness and occasional vulnerability. She can wail with abandon, sail through wordless vocalizing, or—with precision—hone in on every short, precise note in a series. The formidable Mr. Colianni can be a whirlwind of dizzying deftness. Arrangements are packed with ideas and initially established moods that change unexpectedly on a dime, yanking us somewhere else, making for the happiest of hijacking. We’re off to the races when lithe Lizzie Thomas jumps on the super-fast-moving train of “One Note Samba,” in which she dazzlingly goes through the whole English lyric three times within a little more than two minutes, which still allows room for an instrumental break. Whew!
This is the fourth release (including a Christmas EP) from the Pittsburgh-born/ now New York City-based singer, and it includes new treatments of three numbers that also appeared on her album named for one of its three included Cole Porter songs: Easy to Love. Two different Porter choices pop up here: “In the Still of the Night” and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.” The latter starts jauntily with a bit of “It’s Nice to Go Trav’ling ” (Van Heusen/ Cahn) which also mentions returning home. Similarly, Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek” has an insert of “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” Neither interpolation is indicated on the set list which also omits all songwriter names.
The songs are treated like the most elastic of raw material clay that can be molded and pulled and re-shaped, even (in two cases) reassigning lines that were originally their endings to be re-cast as introductory statements. And so, the body of the piece becomes the backstory. Everything old is new again and New Sounds sounds like a winner.