Suzanna Smith's debut release exceeds expectations and is a resounding triumph!
Brent Black / www.criticaljazz.com
In the tightly crowded sorority that is female vocal jazz there are some special artists but it is that second tier of vocalists that can cause a great many deserving talents to get lost in the shuffle and buried among their contemporaries. Part of the phenomena of which I speak is that there are a plethora of good singers, good but not great. Suzanna Smith is special and should be breaking out of the pack shortly.
Debut releases are more often than not predictable introductions to a talent that either have the artist back working happy hour at the local Marriott or have the listener anxiously awaiting the sophomore release. Halfway Between Heaven & Love is a breath of fresh air from a truly unique talent whose musical stock is that proverbial arrow pointing straight up. Why does this release work so well? Suzanna Smith delivers with some well conceived original compositions and some standards that you may have forgotten about. Organic, eclectic, and contemporary yet rooted in the tradition of what old school vocal jazz was once all about, soul.
There is an opening bebop medley that fuses Tad Dameron's "Lady Bird" and the Miles Davis classic "Half Nelson." While Smith is a formidable lyricist her true talent soars with original lyrics to the Dexter Gordon burner "Soy Califa." There is a Zen like magic to the voice of Smith, original and with no notes wasted each note is seemingly embraced by this newbie who in reality has been a fixture on the Bay Area scene for some time. The original composition "Planes and Trains" which was co-written with pianist Michael Coleman is reminiscent of a classic from back in the day while sounding utterly modern in approach and presentation.
In that all too competitive female vocal jazz club, Suzanna Smith is far more that just a pretty face that can find pitch. Smith is a formidable artist with mad skills and a name to be on the lookout for!
Tracks: Lady Bird / Half Nelson; Paper Boat; Summer Me, Winter Me; The Man That Broke The Dragon's Heart; Beautiful Love; Planes And Trains; Can You Give It Up? Comet; Monk's Make Believe; I would Give Anything; Horray For Love; Alone Together; Soy Califa.
Personnel: Suzanna Smith: Vocals; Michael Coleman: Piano & Organ; Ken Husbands: Guitar & Bouzouki; Michael O'Neill: Saxophone & Clarinet; Brandon Essex: Acoustic Bass; Hamir Atwal: Drums; Jon Arkin: Drums; Rob Ewing: Trombone; Cory Wright: Saxophone, Clarinet & Flute; Jordan Glenn: Percussion & Marimba; Mark Allen-Piccolo: Electric Bass.