New Sounds from the Jazz Age
Lizzie Thomas is a jazz vocalist in love with The Great American Songbook as are many. Yet, she brings an improvisational take on these songs, never content to just do them the same way. As she says, “I can call a tune for the rest of my life and I will never sing it the same way. That’s freedom. That’s provocative – that’s jazz.” After receiving her degrees in Vocal Performance and Music Education from Belmont University in Nashville, Thomas moved to New York where she has been playing with first-rate players, releasing now her fourth album, New Sounds from the Jazz Age.
Thomas is accompanied by a core unit of pianist John Colianni, drummer Bernard Linette, percussionist Doug Hendrichs, and woodwind player Omar Daniels. Jay Leonhart and Boots Maleson alternate on bass depending on the track. Matt Chertkoff is the guitarist on six tracks with the renowned Russell Malone guesting on three. Another guest highlight is Felix Peikli who plays clarinet on two selections.
The title suggests some new twists on these nine tunes from The Great American Songbook, from which Thomas carefully chose the combinations of lyric and music to best fit her tastes. Colianni did the arrangements which focus mostly on Ellington, Porter, and Gershwin. The recording was live with all musicians in the same room.
Thomas jumps right in with the blistering, breakneck tempo of Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm,” one of two featuring the clarinetist. “Our Love Is Here to Stay” continues the energetic, joyous vibe. It begins calmly with Russell Malone’s intimate guitar work as Thomas weaves her alto voice seductively into the piece which picks up tempo when the rest of the ensemble joins. “I Didn’t Know About You” is a lesser known Ellington composition again with Malone and introducing the robust, low register tenor sax of Omar Daniels.
Thomas gets sultry again (and appropriately so) on Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” with Colianni all over the 88s and Malone’s electric guitar punctuations, leading into an expressive Daniels tenor solo before Thomas takes it out. “In the Still of the Night” begins with a Latin groove before Thomas digs carefully into each word, making a dark song bright. She then completely transforms Jobim’s classic “One Note Samba” into something almost unrecognizable, re-inventing the lyric and rapidly navigating her way through the rhythm, impossibly defying convention. The only sensible move after that exhausting piece, is a ballad but she tricks us again. While “Cheek to Cheek” begins that way, it quickly morphs into mid-tempo swing, with Colianni and Chertkoff comping and Daniels on flute.
Clarinetist Peikli returns for “Close Your Eyes,” and plays in almost a call and response mode to Thomas’ emotive vocals while Chertkoff plays a scattering of notes with contributions from Daniels on flute. Peikli’s solo mid-piece is astonishing. The album closes with “The Very Thought of You,” infusing the sensual tune with an Afro-Caribbean rhythm and crazy flute excursions from Daniels, resulting in yet another example of making a standard sound fresh. Kudos to Thomas and her supporting cast for their twists on tunes we’ve heard countless times, but never quite like this.
- Jim Hynes