Touch & Go
Touch & Go could be the breakout album for vocalist/composer/arranger Susan Tobocman. This is her fourth album as a leader but here she steps forward with five originals of the dozen tunes, two of which are instrumentals, rare for one known mostly as a vocalist. Of course, Tobocman is more than just a jazz singer, both a composer and arranger, determined to put her own stamp on material, whether it’s hers or an interpretation of others. She brings a nice mix of the familiar and unfamiliar, containing such standards as “Wichita Lineman,” Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” Berlin’s “What’ll I Do,” Lennon and McCartney’s “Help!” and the unlikely James Bond theme “You Only Live Twice.”
The Detroit born-and-raised Tobocman has been based in NYC in recent years although her previous discography points mostly to her hometown – Love from Detroit (2019), Live from Detroit (2014), and Watercolor Dream (1998). Her work in NYC beyond being the first resident/singer at the Zinc Bar, includes off-Broadway musicals, a stint as vocalist/keyboardist for Tom Tom Club, and session work for numerous rock and pop acts. For this date, she enlisted some of NYC’s best including longtime bandmate and collaborator guitarist Pete McCann as co-producer and accompanist. Pianist Henry Hey (musical director for David Bowie’s Lazarus) has worked with Tobocman since she began singing jazz over twenty years ago. Hey is also the co-founder of the jazz fusion band Forq and a former member of the band Rudder. One instrument that truly makes this sound distinctive on five tracks is the cello played by Dave Eggar (Tony Bennett, Andrea Bocelli, Michael Brecker, Esperanza Spalding, and many more). Saxophonist Joel Frahm is every bit as central to the sound. Frahm is a highly in-demand session player who appears on countless albums. Bassist Matt Pavolka and drummer Michael Sarin have considerable experience both in NYC and globally.
We’ll draw from some of award-winning Mark Stryker’s (“Jazz from Detroit”) liner notes. A strong example of Tobocman’s arranging skills is in the opening “What’ll I Do” where she changes the meter form 3/4 to 4/4, establishes a Latin beat, shifts the song from a major to a minor key, and adds an intriguing bass figure. Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” becomes an upbeat swinger and the James Bond tune soars with her vocal, Frahm’s stunning soprano solo and McCann’s guitar. She doe two versions of the Beatles tune, first treating it as a waltz and going out with rock and roll version, as McCann takes a searing guitar excursion.
Eggar improvised all his spots at the direction of Tobocman and McCann, imbuing “The Way to You” and Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman,” among others, with his special touch. On the latter, Tobocman changed the lyrics to reflect a female perspective. Tobocman’s lyrical facility show up in her “Make Believe,” “I Could Get Used to This,” and “The Way to You.” Here’s a sample from the latter, “So many paths I’ve pondered/So many worlds I’ve wandered/But not one step was squandered/On the way to you.” Also, special mention goes to Frahm who is masterful at every turn, especially in his tenor solo on “Make Believe.”
Her two instrumentals also display quite a musical command with “Leaves of Absence” carrying a straight-8th Latin feel and up-tempo title track an exercise in swing. Vocally throughout, Tobocman finds that sweet spot– smooth, sensual, well-phrased, and animated. This is a recording that will lift your spirits – exceptionally well-conceived and delivered.
- Jim Hynes