The Songbook Session
Vocalist, arranger, and multi-lingual Lauren Henderson is back with her sixth musical alliance with pianist Sullivan Fortner – The Songbook Session. Fortner, considered one of today’s top pianists, has been visible lately on a few online performances with Cecile McLorin Salvant. Truth is, though, that he has worked longer, over a decade, with Henderson. In keeping with most of her work, on The Songbook Session, Henderson, who self-produced, uncovers the layers of her diverse background in English, Spanish and Portuguese. The duo is joined by bassist Eric Wheeler, long-time collaborator of Henderson’s and Allan Mednard, an expressive and inventive drummer and percussionist. Each of the reimagined arrangements of these classic gems – including “Day by Day”, “Sabor A Mi”, “People Will Say We’re in Love” and “Besame Mucho” – are due to the collaboration of Henderson and Fortner.
The Songbook Session begins with a sensuous version of “While We’re Young,” with Fortner’s sensitive touch framing the silky vocal stylings of Henderson with the rhythm tandem in support. “Day by Day” begins with Henderson singing in her whispering style, spurred on by Fortner’s bright chords, she enlivens her vocal, almost as if paralleling someone waking up to a day of sunshine. She delivers the Eydie Gormé Latin Jazz hit “Sabor A Mi” in her signature romantic style, featuring an evocative bass solo from Wheeler before turning to Rodgers and Hart for her sultry rendering of “People Will Say We’re in Love.”
It would be nearly impossible to do a Portugese standard without doing one from Antonio Carlos Jobim’s catalog and the seven plus minute “Meditacao (Meditation)” proves to be a stunning showcase for both Henderson and Fortner. The brief by comparison classic “Beautiful Love” still leaves room for Henderson’s expressive voice, a stellar opening bass solo from Wheeler, and, of course, the always dependable lyrical touch of Fortner.
Another stunner is the almost eight minute “Besame Mucho,” which finds Henderson flowing from singing in English to Spanish and Portuguese with a remarkable ease, behind a beginning where she is only paired with drummer Mednard, before the ensemble enjoins and then each band member takes a soloing turn. The album concludes with the standard “Tenderly” which Henderson has relabeled “Tiernamente” to incorporate her own lyrics in Spanish to mesh with the Billie Holiday rendition. Here, she and Fortner perform gorgeously as a duet and they reprise “Day by Day” in that configuration as a bonus track.
Originally from Massachusetts, Henderson is unique among jazz artists for multiple reasons. Her Panamanian, Montserratian, and vast Caribbean roots interplay with her North American upbringing – her eclectic vocal influences spread across genres producing a distinct yet versatile sound. Jazz, Latin jazz, flamenco, folk, and classical roots aid in an exploration of culture, society, and race relations. As CEO of her record label, Brontosaurus, she is qualified for almost any executive role, holding MBAs from both Brown University and the IE Business School (Spain), the latter as recently as last year. Prior to that, she earned degrees in both Music and Hispanic Studies, at Wheaton College (MA. While living in Puebla, México she studied the traditional music of the Yucatán and popular music throughout the country at Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla. Through her international piano and voice studies, she worked on developing her musicianship. In Córdoba, España she studied flamenco and its similarities to jazz at La Universidad de Córdoba.
Henderson has been recently featured in the Financial Times, breaking the Jazz Charts – Top 25, and the Year End Jazz Week Top 100 for 2018 and 2019 due to her previous releases, Armame (2018) and Alma Oscura (2019). Regarding the Henderson- Fortner partnership, they met weeks after her graduating with her Bachelor of Arts and moving to New York. With hundreds of performance experiences together, and six released recordings including this one, Henderson and Fortner have a strong bond that enables them to write, arrange, produce, and perform in an impactful way. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Sullivan on stage and in the studio for almost a decade,” says Henderson, adding, “his wisdom and guidance has always been essential to my growth and creative freedom. Besides being someone who I respect and admire musically, he has continued to be one of my best friends and I consider him family.”
Lauren Henderson is highly regarded as an international star, having toured the world at least ten times. Her original music has appeared the film “The Drowning” and there appears to be no limits to her musical purview, whether as a vocalist, composer, executive, or producer. She will hopefully be with us for years to come.