The Heart Wants
British jazz vocalist and songwriter Jo Harrop brings her second album, The Heart Wants, stateside. One immediately senses her intimate, smoky, bluesy voice as the album opens with “The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants,” to the accompaniment of a first-rate lineup that boasts bassist Christian McBride, trumpeter Andy Davies, and pianist/collaborator Hannah Vasanth, among others. There are multiple musicians deployed on select tracks and McBride, like most, only plays on a few. But that opening track does a splendid job of drawing the listener in. Harrop has got that “it,” made even more impressive considering that she pens eight of the dozen tunes.
McBride made a whole album of duets in 2011, Conversations with Christian, and reverts to that duet format, pairing with Harrop on Duke Ellington’s “All Too Soon.” The organ driven “Everything’s Changing” is a comforting, hopeful song as we emerge from the pandemic years. It too features Davies’ emotive trumpet. The sultry “I’d Think You’d Better Go” is set in a bar on a rainy day, teeming with the temptation of tension between surrendering or resisting the carnal next step. The lovely ballad “Wise Words,” about believing in yourself, is from pianist/co-writer/arranger Paul Edis, one of three tunes that he contributes to the album. These five are a most auspicious beginning to an album from an artist we’ve never heard before, so a little background is in order before proceeding further.
Harrop hails from a small town in Northeast England and, to her parents’ chagrin, dreamed of a musical career which she pursued clandestinely until moving to London where she began to frequent jam sessions and eventually began singing in jazz clubs. With her natural vocal chops, it did not take long for her to get a professional start. An agency hired her as a session singer for major pop artists such as Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart, and Gloria Gaynor. It was during the session work that she met Hannah Vasanth, now her best friend and collaborator. She also soon met Maynak Patel, owner of the Hampstead Jazz Club and Lateralize Records, eventually debuting with Weathering the Storm, a duo project with guitarist Jamie McCredie in 2020.
Harrop had been writing lyrics for years and needed a musical partner. Enter Vasanth, McCredie and highly regarded Edis, the co-writer on “If I Knew,” the first song written for the album and the gateway to more. Along with those already cited, the musicians include McCredie, who along with Vasanth, produced. British jazz award winner pianist Jason Robello, and Amy Winehouse drummer Troy Miller (also George Benson, Chaka Khan, Gregory Porter) appear amongst 21 musicians and a 21-person choir for “Weather the Storm” in the credits.
So, back to the music with “Red Mary James & A Brand New Hat,” a playful, tongue-in-cheek swinger about a girl who just wants to go out and sing dressed in those shoes with a new hat, featuring Robello’s bluesy piano. More blues is in store on “Hold On,” with McCredie’s sharp guitar in dialogue with Harrop’s vocal. Vocalist Marcus Bonfanti joins on the pensive “Life Inside,” about mental health and getting away from depression. “What If,” one of two co-writes with Edis, is a soft late-night like piano ballad which he seems to specialize in, as Harrop yearns for a space and time where love can exist. The other Edis co-wrote is the aforementioned “If I Knew,” about regret and loss. The album concludes with a couple of cover tunes; first Tom Waits’ “Rainbow Sleeves” and then a sublime take on Lerner & Lowe’s “If I Would Ever Leave,” featuring Robello’s piano. As a bonus track, she offers the title track from her debut, “Weather the Storm,” replete with the 21- person global choir.
Harrop possesses qualities of the best jazz singers. She’s got soul, can swing, can shift to sultry, playful, and bluesy and make it all seem effortless. This is only her second album, but with this stellar support she comes across as confident veteran. We can expect her trajectory to be steep.
- Jim Hynes