It is obvious from the siren heard at the start of “’Round Midnight” that this is not a conventional jazz vocal album. Sylvia Brooks is a dramatic singer who fits easily into the film noir atmosphere set by arranger Kim Richmond. In fact, the backup band is called the “Artmosphere Orchestra.” Much of the music sounds as if it could have come from the soundtrack of a late 1940s/early ‘50s movie set in the dark and rainy streets of Los Angeles.
But before one comes to the conclusion that this is an example of an actress who decided to record a jazz album, consider that Sylvia Brooks (who acted in the past) is first of all a singer. She has a powerful and flexible voice with a beautiful tone, swings naturally, and has a real feel for these songs. She really digs into such material as “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams,” “You Go To My Head,” “You’re My Thrill” and “I’m A Fool To Want You.” She puts plenty of emotion into the lyrics and yet still holds something back, displaying a great deal of inner heat that brings out the darker meanings of the words.
Kim Richmond’s arrangements for the nine-piece group often recall Gil Evans (despite the lack of French horns and tuba) and perfectly fit the music. Altoist Alex Budman is outstanding whenever he solos as is Richmond (also on alto) during his two guest appearances, and the superior band includes Ron Kalina on harmonica, violinist Harry Scorzo, and either Rich Eames or Jeff Colella on piano.
But the main focus is on Ms. Brooks, who manages to transform a song apiece by Joni Mitchell (“Be Cool”) and Leonard Cohen (“Blue Alert”) into what she calls “Jazz Noir” along with the more vintage material. Her long tones are haunting and particularly effective.
Sylvia Brooks, who should be cast in a high-quality movie, is memorable throughout Restless. Buy
this CD (available from www.sylviabrooks.net) for those rainy nights in the fall.
- Scott Yanow