Album reviews

Fiona Ross – ‘Red Flags and High Heels’

Fiona Ross – Red Flags and High Heels

Singer and pianist Fiona Ross returns with an album of fourteen new tracks on which she takes composition, production, and arrangement credits. Ross was Head of the British Academy of New Music for nine years, a role in which she was responsible for the training of Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora and Jess Glynne.

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Red Flags and High Heels is Ross’ fifth solo album. It’s fair to say that the singer may have flown a little under the radar, despite having previously won several awards. She is clearly a brave spirit, having, as she tells us, performed in jazz clubs and venues since she was fourteen (Ross lied to promoters about her age).

On this release, Ross is back by some notable players, including Gibbi Bettini (guitar), Derek Daley (bass), Marley Drummond (drums), Loren Hignell (saxophones), Dave Boa (trumpets), Ashaine White (saxophone/backing vocals), Simon Todd and Warren Woodcraft (percussion) and a special guest appearance by Kim Cypher (saxophone).

The title track sets an impressive standard, a delightfully-swinging number with a contemporary edge. There’s a classy feel to the production, which contains as much lavish style as the classic Bond theme of your choice. Ross’ vocals are wonderful, full of emotion and free of hyperbole, providing a dazzling centre around which the music revolves. The bombastic whirl of attention-grabbing elements makes for a thrilling listen. There are certainly some captivating solos on display, but this is very much an ensemble effort by some top class players.

The slower-paced, charming When I Get Old, proves that Ross is equally capable of entertaining with just voice and piano. Her playing is lovingly understated, an impressionistic soundscape over which her vocals flow like a stream. “I’ll have all the answers, I’ll feel safe and secure…” sings Ross, echoing a forlorn hope with which we can all empathise. After a mercurial sax solo, the band kick in for a rousing finale.

You Feel My Groove, with its playful, call-and-response vocals, bounces with irrepressible energy, the band switching tempos at the drop of a hat. Indeed, throughout this record, Ross and her group display a gift for inventive arrangements and selfless playing. There’s something of a mainstream pop feel to this number, which is in no way a criticism. You Are Like Poison switches directions again, a shuffling, rolling number with blues-tinged guitar and stabbing horns. I Always Save The Red Flags is a particular highlight. Ross’ compelling voice floats over a bed of horns and double-bass. Again, Ross isn’t content to settle for the obvious. This is another song which, although on the surface might appear straight-forward, is packed full of nuance and skilful touches.

A quartet of live tracks takes us out, showing, as if there was any doubt, than Ross and company have the chops to perform more than admirably away from the studio. Red Flags and High Heels ought to find its way into the collection of many a jazz enthusiast. It must be said, though, that Ross’ appeal is bound to spread further than that.

LINK: Interview with Fiona Ross

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