It’s been a winter of female jazz singers, which is certainly not that odd of an occurrence, but in a crowded field it’s hard to stand out when there’s so much talent in the contemporary jazz scene. (I’m still reeling from that sweet Gloria Reuben album, by the way.) Kayle Brecher has two things going for her–she’s a distinctive singer and she’s also a gifted arranger. In her new album Kayleidoscope, Brecher sticks to tradition and channels such playful singers as Ella Fitzgerald (she’s fond of scatting and does it in a welcome and restrained manner) but inserts plenty of personality in every note. Listen to the way she pronounces every word of these jazz standards and then juxtaposes it against equally grounded musicians.
Kayleidoscope doesn’t gloss over the music as so many recent singers have done. There’s no modernizing, no attempts to crossover into new realms with a trendy approach. These are songs of joy, of better times, of doing everything right the first time. I love the way her voice sounds, so imbued with that elusive attitude that she’s so happy to be here, doing what she loves to do. She accomplishes what should be considered mandatory for this type of album–she makes the songs her own, and there’s a stunning logic behind her choices.
How does Kayle Brecher accomplish this? First, she has picked such songs as “My Favorite Things” and a couple of Freddie Hubbard compositions and even her own originals, and she places them in an order that makes certain sense. There’s a progression of tracks here that congeals into a whole and tells a single story. She describes this process as “melodic content as an intricate dance of shapes and colors entwining and flowing with or rubbing against harmonic and rhythmic partners.”
This is a cerebral way to sing familiar tunes, and Kayle Brecher makes it work flawlessly. That’s a good reason for her to control so much of this album–composing, arranging and performing with a stellar group of musicians that includes guitarist Frank Butrey (who looms large in every track), pianist Dr. John Valerio, and an ever-rotating group of bassists, keyboardists and percussionists. Despite the large cast of characters, there is a steady flow to her arrangements that creates a fluid feel, one that breezes by and charms her listeners every step of the way.