Questions Left Unanswered
The group dubbed Sounds of A&R, or as they are commonly referenced S.O.A. R., is the partnering team of vocalist April May Webb and the trumpeter Randall Haywood, with support from April May’s siblings Jacob Webb on bass and Nathan Webb on drums, plus guitarist Charlie Sigler, pianist James Austin and harpist Riza Printup. Questions Left Unanswered is the third album for the co-leading duo that has made their mark on the New York City scene, wowing audiences on stages such as Dizzy’s, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Birdland Jazz Club, Minton’s Playhouse and the legendary Apollo Theater, often alongside legendary drummer T.S. Monk. 2019 saw a stellar year for the duo as they were named “Best Jazz Group” at the NYC Readers Jazz Awards presented by Hot House Jazz Magazine and Jazzmobile. Earlier that year, S.O.A.R. released their single “The Road to Love’s Destiny” which landed on the Billboard Contemporary chart.
Theirs is a mix of originals and well-placed covers, mostly warm, a few romantic and some that bear R&B influences. The title track, which appears two-thirds of the way through, is about navigating the mysteries of life with eloquent vocal passages sung by April May, played in unison by Haywood on trumpet. The latter’s solo is stunning, and her vocals may evoke Abbey Lincoln. Learn how they met with April May’s spoken word narrative in the opening, “Thus the Beginning.” Since they met at a jazz club, it’s fitting that they next take on a jazz standard, Gigi Gryce’s “Social Call” with bright vocals and well-articulated trumpet and guitar spots before moving the oft-covered Dolly Parton gem, “Jolene,” that follows a light R&B groove, underpinned by Austin’s Fender Rhodes and Randall on flugelhorn.
The first fully rendered original composition, “They Keep Saying No” speaks to the challenges of breaking into the music industry. Flirting with the harmony and melodic passages of “Old Devil Moon”, the duo offers a bright-hued lament on the realities of being a modern-day career musician with a dazzling scat solo from April May. “Killing Me Softly” doesn’t much resemble Roberta Flack’s hit, with an inspired jazz-oriented upbeat tempo instead. The original “Dark Brown Eyes” again features strong ensemble pairing of the trumpet with April May’s vocals yet on her solo spots, she demonstrates her amazing range.
“Moments When I Was A Kid” is one of the three co-written by Randall and April May. A period of syncopated bass ostinato and bright guitar comping sets the tone for a touching reflection on childhood with such imagery as “the ice cream truck” conjured by April May’s lyrics and Randall’s expressive improvisation amidst the playful melodic spots. The lovely piano, harp, bowed bass “The Skin I’m In” Prelude leads into the fully rendered tune which reminds this writer thematically (certainly not musically) of Buddy Guy’s blues tune, “Skin Deep.” April May mixes vocals with spoken word in a dramatic, heartfelt performance. This, together with the following title track represent their most declarative statements. From here they ease into another standard, “I’m Old Fashioned,” a reprise of “Killing Me Softly,” the gospel hymn “As The Deer” and a reprise of the title track.
The selections may not seem to be cohesive thematically but Randall notes that all played a critical role in their musical development. That development certainly seems rich and mature in this mostly graceful, warm listen.
- Jim Hynes