Jazz vocalist Sylvia Brooks introduced a sensuous jazz-noir sound redolent of femme fatales and tough guys, crooked deals and deep-shadowed urban nightscapes.
But no great artist wants to be typecast, and with her album Signature, she steps out of the mist and fog into the sunlight, where she reveals herself as a singer at home in just about any narrative. An intimate collaboration with an array of brilliant Los Angeles arrangers.
When an artist succeeds in a particular niche she always faces pressure to repeat the performance, but Brooks had no intention of limiting herself. “I don’t think I chose music as much not and much,” she says. “I love Latin influenced music, big band swing, and rich ballads. I want to explore the whole spectrum musically.”
With a sumptuous velvet-rich voice and emotionally incisive phrasing, Brooks is far too protean a talent to be confined to any particular plotline. In creating Signature, she didn’t just set out to investigate different moods and rhythms. She invited a dazzling cast of writers to craft bespoke charts tailored stylishly for her voice, while giving them casting carte blanche, an act of trust that led to a project marked by a glorious diversity of settings.
Since her captivating debut in 2009, jazz vocalist Sylvia Brooks has displayed a gift for inhabiting different personas, with a subspecialty in film- noir inspired femmes fatale. On this – Signature her fourth album, she embraces the most challenging role of all, defining herself with a set of beautifully crafted original songs.
Her evocative lyrics and emotionally direct delivery imbue the music with hard-won authenticity. Whether looking back with wry affection on her walk-on-the-wild-side youth or lamenting a lost love, Brooks brings bracing honesty and poise to the material.
Artistically, she is collaborating with Southern California’s most creative accompanists: ace pianists Tom Ranier, Jeff Colella, and Christian Jacob designed beguiling, harmonically rich settings for her incisive lyrics. The stellar rhythm section tandem of drummer Ray Brinker and bassist Trey Henry appear on almost every track. Also featuring cellists John Waltz, lead cellist for The Los Angeles Opera Company, Stephanie Fife and Mike Kaufman.
Highlights include the cautionary tale “Red Velvet Rope” which is set to a sensuous Latin groove by cuatro master Kiki Valera, scion of a legendary Cuban musical clan. And she sways through swingtown, from the witty “Catch 22” to the passionately romantic “The Flea Markets of Paris.” The two songs she includes by other artists, Melody Gardot’s bluesy, organ-driven “Your Heart Is as Black as Night” and the Leonard Cohen/Sharon Robinson erotic lament “Boogie Street” seem to raise the temperature of her own work. This album marks a quantum leap reflecting years of concentrated effort.
I’m extremely proud of Signature. It is my most intimate and personal work to date, having written the lyrics for all but the first and last tracks. When we went into the studio, I wanted it to be a truly collaborative effort. I wanted everyone to contribute their voice to the piece, and I was extremely fortunate to work with the best artists in Los Angeles. I wanted it to be honest and organic. It’s also the first time I my work. I’m currently working on my next album- writing- and digging deep to understand what I want to say, and what others care about hearing. Having been in the Jazz world in Los Angeles for the last 13 years, I’ve come to know who I like collaborating with. I also reached out to specific musicians with my lyrics, based on what I thought the song was about emotionally and who I thought would understand it musically, who’s wheelhouse it was in,- an interview with me said Sylvia Brooks.