As there is a bright future and hope for the state of jazz in the millennial generation, the same goes true for singers who are pushing the limits into further creativity and unpredictability. One of these singers is vocalist extraordinaire Laura Swankey.
Laura is a real risk taker and a game changer in the world of jazz vocals. First, in her band, she only employs a bassist and drummer, treating her voice as a harmolodic entity with her band members. Second, she has a horn-like approach with her voice, with the uncanny ability to think like an instrumentalist instead of just a pretty face singing words. Thirdly, she is a forward thinking singer/songwriter who has a grasp of language and advanced wordplay a la Joni Mitchell.
The repertoire performed last night was nothing short of exploratory and rapturous. Starting with “A Sleeping Bee”, Laura feels the lyric, treats us to a tasty scat solo, and provides the framework for bassist Malcolm Connor and drummer Robin Claxton to get into the groove of the music and dig deeper into its inner regions. On “East of the Sun”, it shifts from a Latin groove into 4/4 swing. “Smile”, Charlie Chaplin’s timeless classic, is a real showstopper of a tune where it is set in 5/4 time and Laura captures the positivity and the sheer emotion of the lyrics to the song.
In her original material, she shines with the creative wordplay on tunes such as “Autumn Woes”, a contrefact of Autumn Leaves with its sheer sense of the blues and melancholy; and “Quiet”, which starts off in free jazz territory before zeroing in on a straight eighth groove and clever poetic lyrics by Laura and the band members.
The rhythm section team of Malcolm Connor and Robin Claxton is rapidly becoming one of the most dominant, supportive and reliable teams that Toronto is producing in its millennial jazz scene. Well known for their fame in David Rubel’s quartet, the rapport that they have amongst each other is telepathic and communicative it is nothing short of a revelatory experience.
A great night of a new, fresh look at jazz vocals from three artists who refuse to play it safe and take bold and new risks.
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(Malcolm Connor, Laura Swankey, Robin Claxton)