Sara Gazarek: Blossom & Bee (2012)
Vocalist Sara Gazarek was in a recording slumber for the past half decade, but 2012 seems to be the year that this sleeping jazz vocal beauty finally awakens. She eased her way back into the ears of her fans with Where Time Stands Still (Charleston Square Recordings, 2012), a collaboration that paired her with the Germany's Triosence, and returns full force now, with the sublime Blossom & Bee. This twelve-song program is strongly influenced by the work of vocalist Blossom Dearie but, like Amy Cervini's Dearie-derived Digging Me Digging You (Anzic, 2012), it isn't a tribute album. Both artists simply appreciate Dearie's artistry, allowing it to filter into their own work and, since they come at the music in different manners and only overlap on a few songs, their albums actually serve as interesting companion pieces.
While it's a bit clichéd to say that a collection of songs can make you fall in love with a singer, the shoe fits here. Gazarek balances fancy free notions, effervescence, carefree whims, fragile emotions, precocious pondering and humor in her work, making this a highly attractive outing as a whole. Some singers seem admirable from a distance, but Sara Gazarek comes off as the ultimate humanized vocalist who could knock you out with a performance and then sit down with you and have a nice talk for an hour over coffee.
Gazarek and her band gathered a wide variety of material for this date, mixing originals in with the music of Rodgers and Hart, hip pop-ster Ben Folds and many others, but nothing seems out of place. They deliver a unified statement as they put their stamp on each song, creating stunning, tailor-made arrangements. Gazarek shares the spotlight with guest singer/guitarist John Pizzarelli on the breezy title track, which features a terrific melodica solo from Larry Goldings, and she taps into her spiritual side on the only other original inclusion, "Fly Away Birdie." She does to "Down With Love" what Jane Monheit did with "Cheek To Cheek," creating a signature arrangement underscored with snappy hits below, and she comfortably swims in wordless waters on "So This Is Love."
The singer's connection to bassist Hamilton Price becomes apparent on a touching performance of Folds' "The Luckiest," but her most simpatico supporter proves to be pianist Josh Nelson, who shines at every turn. Closing out the album with a Dearie-connected School House Rock number ("Unpack Your Adjectives") proves to be a wise decision, as it shows that Gazarek doesn't suffer from the I-take-myself-too-seriously epidemic that plagues so many of jazz's upper crust vocalists.
Blossom & Bee marks Gazarek's arrival at Palmetto records and they're probably pleased as punch about their decision to sign her. This is an A+ album in every respect.
Track Listing: Everything I've Got; Blossom & Bee; Fly Away Birdie; The Luckiest; Down With Love; Lucky To Be Me; Tea For Two; I'm Old Fashioned; So This Is Love; The Lies Of Handsome Men; Some Of These Days; Unpack Your Adjectives.
Personnel: Sara Gazarek: voice; Josh Nelson: piano; Hamilton Price: bass; Zach Harmon: drums; John Pizzarelli: voice, guitar; Larry Goldings: piano, melodica, organ.