|Toni Janotta. Photo credit: Janine Stengel|
(Airie Records. CD Review by Sarah Ellen Hughes)
Toni Janotta, a jazz singer based in Ventura County, California, has three vocal jazz albums to her name. The third – Is It Magic? – combines a few straight-ahead jazz tunes with a selection of contemporary hits and original compositions.
Opening with a beautifully understated Is It Magic?, we immediately get a sense of Jannotta’s capabilities as both singer and as musician from her impressive range and wonderful phrasing. Jannotta is also a composer, as this is one of eight originals on the album. The vocals and the band complement each other here, showing sympathy for each other’s input, while proving consistently that they are skilled individuals. .
There are some quirky moments – a cover of Madonna’s Borderline is an interesting idea and I really like the band’s groove, although I feel the vocals are a little rigid and rhythmic which doesn’t quite seem to work with the band’s lyrical and relaxed feel.
The band really impresses on Take Five and, with Jannotta singing Iola Brubeck’s lyric, we can appreciate her perfectly placed soprano range. I’m particularly impressed by the saxophone playing of Scheila Gonzalez – both virtuosic and complimentary to the vocal line in equal measure. In general, the production of the CD has captured a great ‘live’ vibe, which is no easy feat in a studio.
Jannotta’s writing offers an interesting perspective – this is not an album of your usual “my heart’s broken” type of songs; rather a take on Jannotta’s experience through the world of people and places. Pluto and Narcissus & Echo are two particularly interesting tracks. The vocals in Ventura are packed full of expression, and the quirky Opposites Attract has a light and clever lyric. I love the lush chords and mood of Storm’s a Comin’, and pianist Greg Gordon Smith shines throughout with an authoritative tone.
One can hear the influence of pop artists such as Sting on this singer’s writing, and this is re-iterated with a cover of Sting’s Fragile, in a mesmerising 6/4.
The album closes with a wonderful piano and bass feature called Ruthie’s Themes. There’s no singing on this track, which is an interesting way to end a vocal jazz album, but it reminds us of Jannotta’s elegance as a composer and obvious mutual respect amongst the musicians involved in making this CD.