The cover pictures Ms Zakian looking thoroughly fed up with life, but that is by no means the prevailing atmosphere of the the music. Wistful at times, yes; miserable , no. This is her second CD , and it has all the qualities of the first – rhythmic poise, a sweet, direct voice without airs and graces, and an obvious love of the material. There are some beautiful songs here, like ‘whisper Not’ and ‘Never Let Me Go’ that really deserve this kind of attention, but rarely receive it. In fact, the whole 11 – song set is scrupulously chosen. Her solo companions, trombonist Mark Bassey and saxophonist Mark Lockheart, match Laura Zakian’s interpretations with complete sympathy, while pianist Jim Watson is the kind of accompanist that singers dream about.
This record is the best I’ve heard for many a moon with Laura’s flawless articulation and ability to put any kind of song over in a style that is all her own. The pure swinging jazz has to be heard to be fully appreciated and there’s little doubt that the radio stations will be playing some of these numbers non-stop. It’s not only Laura’s voice. She has a musically immaculate backing group with pianist Jim Watson who comes from the same mould as Oscar Peterson – he really is that good. Together with bass man Simon Thorpe and drummer Matt Home, some of the finest players on the contemporary jazz scene, you could be forgiven for thinking you were being transported back to an Oscar and Ella concert – minus Ella.
This is Laura’s long awaited follow-up to the critically acclaimed debut album Nobody Else But Me, but it is certainly worth the wait. She sings like a swallow, her voice soaring and diving, covering a number of standards in her own inimitable style – and what style, grace, sophistication and application. Just listen to the opening track of ‘East of the Sun’ and you will be hooked. Her wildly spontaneous ‘Devil May Care’ reveals her voice can cope with any idiom. You want blues? Try ‘Billy’s Blues’. There’s a ‘tribute’ to Mae West (she’s an actress for those too young to know) in ‘Peel Me A Grape’ and how often has a Noel Coward song – ‘Mad About The Boy’ – appeared on a jazz album?
Her vocals are simply amazing and she doesn’t always sing well-known songs. She’s equally relaxed and brilliant on such numbers as ‘My Ideal’ and ‘Whisper Not’. She is joined with above backing group by Mark Bassy (tb) and Mark Lockheart (ts&ss). They too are an asset to the record which, to use the old cliché, is a must have disc. All contemporary jazz fans should have this in their collection.
Laura Zakian made herself a lot of new friends with her warmly received 2001 debut Nobody Else But Me, managing to carve a distinctive niche in what has become a bewilderingly overcrowded scene. Repeating the successful formula of the debut – juxtaposing perennial favourites (East Of the Sun, Devil May Care) with fresh takes on some well worn classics (Mad About The Boy, Just One Of Those Things, Peel Me A Grape) as well as more contemporary material (Laura Nyro’s Billy’s Blues) – Just One of Those Things will undoubtedly win her a whole host of new fans. A vocal tutor at Trinity College of Music, Zakian swings effortlessly, combines a lightness of touch with a deep reservoir of power and control and – most importantly – always draws the listener in to the song’s lyric. With this singer nothing ever seems laboured or overblown. The album benefits enormously from the deft textural embellishments provided by Mark Bassey (the only survivor from the debut lineup) and Mark Lockheart. The former’s doleful interjections in a markedly personal take on Mad About The Boy and the latter’s soprano wrapping around the vocal line in a superb reading of the Mercer/Allen tune Out Of This World are standout moments.
Regular readers will have seen Derek Ansell’s interview with Zakian in last month’s issue of JJI (SEE THE “ABOUT” PAGE) and so I need not waste space on her background. Zakian has a clear, deep and ringing vocal sound. She has a relaxed sense of swing and there is an appealing freshness to her take on the songs, almost all of which are familiar although almost none is overdone. Even an overly familiar song such as Just One Of Those Things is given a surprisingly slow tempo that suits Zakian and the trio admirably. Six of the titles are arranged by Zakian and Melling, another two by Melling alone, the rest by Zakian and the core trio; about them all is a real sense of group endeavour rather than simply singer and accompaniment, a quality that immediately adds points.
All the instrumentalist present are afforded solo space, notably Watson, whose touch is elegant on ballads and swinging everywhere. Lockheart’s soprano is effective on Out Of This World as is his tenor on Like Someone In Love, and Bassey not only contributes nice solos, on My Ideal for example, but also here and there provides an effective obbligato to Zakian’s vocal lines. Dave Frishberg’s Peel Me A Grape is given a pleasing workout with Thorpe laying down a robustly rocking beat from the start and also taking a good solo. Home is always discreetly supportive, his brush and cymbal work being especially attractive as he builds a plangent background to the proceedings. A song I have not heard before is Laura Nyro’s Billy’s Blues, and while I am not wild about the lyric, melodically it is very satisfying. Never Let Me Go, is pensive in lyric and melody and ends the set in an appropriately reflective mood. Altogether then, a very effective album by a singer we are sure to hear a lot more from in the future.
The Friends Of Good Songs will like this one. Good sound. The note is by Ansell and is all that you would expect from him. Recommended.