Love’s In Need of Love Today
It’s never too late. Elizabeth Tomboulian has been singing since the ‘70s but this is her debut CD, Love’s In Need of Love Today. In keeping with her career, it’s an eclectic mix of blues, bossa nova, and jazz – all styles that she has covered at one point or another. Elizabeth began as a blues-folk singer in her native Arkansas and Houston in the ‘70s before diving deeply into the music of Brazil and Uruguay and then surfacing as a jazz pianist, guitarist and vocalist. From the opening Professor Longhair-like riffs in “Exactly Like You” to the bossa nova version of Monk’s “Nutty” to the old time blues of Bessie Smith’s “Good Old Wagon” Tomboulian seamlessly weaves her way through these various styles.
She’s lived and performed in various towns and cities in Texas, Louisiana, Colorado, Tennessee, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and now New York, where she resides with her husband Lee (more on him later). Elizabeth first became attracted to jazz when in Houston studying with vocal coach Ray Sullenger. A romance with Al Hirt’s bass player brought her to New Orleans where, by luck, she immediately found a job as a club pianist on Bourbon Street and later as the pianist in the Charles Neville House Band. Her stay in the Crescent city was brief, moving next to Boulder, Co where she was the house pianist at the Blue Note. From there, it was Nashville where she spent seven years singing and arranging backup vocals in session work.
She moved back to Little Rock where she met her husband, jazz pianist and composer Lee, who plays piano on eight of the 11 tracks. When she first met him they formed a Latin jazz group called Circo Verde, which played the music of Brazil and Uruguay regionally. They later moved to New York where they’ve been performing and teaching regularly.
The album was produced by Grammy-nominated Roseanna Vitro, whose latest album Tell the Truth we covered on these pages. Their relationship traces to Tomboulian’s days in Houston but rekindled when Vitro attended one of her gigs and gave her the encouragement to put out a record under her own name. Naturally the album features several A-list New York musicians. Lee, of note, has worked with Airto, Nat Adderley, Larry Coryell, and Jack DeJohnette, among others. Bluesy bassist Cliff Schmitt is an old friend from Texas but has held down a steady gig at NYC’s Terra Blues for decades. He tours and records with Curtis Stigers. Drummer Alvester Garnett and trumpet virtuoso Ingrid Jensen are well known in jazz circles.
The concept was born as a reaction to the murder of 49 people at the Pulse night club in Orlando. When she heard Stevie Wonder’s song on the radio, she thought this was exactly what we needed today. Her passionate reading of the title track reflects her emotions, augmented by Vitro on backup vocals. She wrote the lyrics to McCoy Tyner’s “For Tomorrow” which was originally done with a wordless scat choir. It carries a similar theme as the title track. Vitro helped the Tomboulians arrange the medley of Bill Evans’ “Re: The Person I Knew” with Cyndi Lauper’s oft-covered “Time After Time,” done as a ballad.
Blues comes as Elizabeth accompanies herself on piano on “The Ballad of the Snow Leopard and the Tanqueray Cowboy,” the famous ballad written by Texas poet David R. Rodriguez. She plays a finger-style guitar on the Bessie Smith tune and goes solo on piano for the intimate “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” “Cheesy,” a bluesy original, also has Elizabeth on piano. It’s about a woman whom people think is cheesy because she’s too choosy about finding the right man. Another bluesy/soulful medley closes the album as she merges Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth” with Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” the latter with new lyrics she wrote in keeping with the album theme – “We can make a way for every soul to live in peace/hungry children got to eat/everybody got to be free/cause there’s no fear in this whole sphere in that love cannot defeat.” Many cover the Stills tune in angry fashion but Tomboulian delivers it in uplifting fashion, paving the way for her message in “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”
Love wins and Elizabeth Tomboulian wins our hearts too. Expect to hear more from this talented lady.
- Jim Hynes