South Australia-born singer Jo Lawry’s new album “Acrobats” with bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Allison Miller, is released on Whirlwind Recordings on 10 February. There is also a UK/ Ireland/ Switzerland tour starting this weekend in Poole. List of dates below. Interview by Sebastian.
“It sprang to my mind when I was considering how I would like this album to feel, not just musically but in every way; a balancing act of risk and trust, flight and stuck landings, and, most of all, fun.”
That is how Australian vocalist Jo Lawry has described her new album “Acrobats”, recorded in a trio with two top-flight New York musicians and good friends, bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Allison Miller. And the sentence does indeed sum up the spirit of an album which has a particular kind of playful, joyful and fearless energy about it.
Given the scale of Lawry’s other priorities and commitments, it is not really surprising that she has not made a jazz album in the past decade. Those other callings include a regular role in Sting’s band, a teaching post in Sydney, and – in the past few years – the raising of a young family with her husband, London-born saxophonist Will Vinson. There have been other recording ventures: she has released two albums of original songs, “Taking Pictures” (2015) and “The Bathtub and The Sea” (2017), the latter with a guest appearance from Sting – he calls her “one of my favourite singers” – on the song “Unlearning”…but “Acrobats” marks a return to jazz.
And for a pointer to quite how serious Lawry’s jazz intentions are, one really doesn’t have to look far. First there is the material she has chosen, notably an astonishing wordless exploration of the emblematic Lennie Tristano composition ‘317 East 32nd Street’. “I wanted to challenge myself and dive back into the deep end of jazz,” she says. “Not something jazz-adjacent but jazz with a capital ‘J’!”
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And it is not just the material either. Jazz, naturally, is also about communication and partnership and the other musicians people choose to work with…
When I spoke to Jo Lawry by phone after a rehearsal for the forthcoming tour, that was the subject which came up first of all, and especially drummer Allison Miller: “The second that I thought of Allison as the drummer for this record,” Lawry told me, “I just knew that I wanted to make it. It was the clincher. I could already picture the record. She is always so much fun, musically and personally.”
And then there is bassist Linda May Han Oh. “What I love about her playing is that, technically, she’s an absolute monster; there’s nothing you can throw at her that she can’t master in a nanosecond. Her intonation is spectacular, which is crucial for me in this setting where she is the only pitch reference. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s a fellow Aussie!”
An all-female trio on the album, then, the emergence of which was “totally by accident,” Lawry asserts. “There might be an assumption that it was the driving force. It wasn’t.”
There is also a slightly longer backstory to this album: Lawry had had the idea of recording songs with just bass and drums for a couple of years before actually making this recording. It was a challenge and she was determined, somehow, to take it on. There was a first plan to make it with Linda May Han Oh during Covid when both musicians were hunkered down with their respective families in Australia, with top Australian drummer Ben Vanderwal, but lockdowns put paid to that plan.
Then in December 2021 she was in New York in order to record a duo album with Fred Hersch (which is made and due to be released at some point later)…and had the idea of doing a recording session of the repertoire with bass and drums, not knowing whether an album would result from it or not. But as soon as they started recording, the doubts were cast aside: “It just felt magic and right and easy and fun,” she remembers.
The final track on the album, “If I were a Bell”, was their sound check, but the engineer at Atomic Sound in Brooklyn was astute enough to record it complete. The songs which include one real curio: “Travelin’ Light” is a version which doesn’t even make it into Wikipedia’s disambiguation. It was written by Frank Loesser and was excised from the first 1950 stage production of Guys and Dolls by producer Cy Feuer (more on that here).
Jo Lawry is now looking forward to taking her “Acrobats” trio on tour in England, Ireland, and Switzerland. Linda May Han Oh is tied to New York at the moment, and bass duties on these dates are with Orlando Le Fleming, another close musical friend of Lawry and Vinson. Le Fleming’s extensive work with singers includes a long spell in Jane Monheit’s band. Full tour dates below.
Friday 13 January Soundcellar, Poole
Saturday 14 January Arthurs, Dublin
Monday 16 January Crane Lane Theatre, Cork
Tuesday 17 January Pizza Express Holborn, London
Wednesday 18 January Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham
Thursday 19 January The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
Saturday 21 January The Verdict, Brighton
Sunday 22 January Musig im Pflegidach, Muri, Switzerland
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Categories: Features/Interviews (PP)