Release Date: Feb 11, 2014
Record label: Brownswood
Genre(s): Jazz, Vocal Jazz, Contemporary Jazz Vocals
The title doesn't refer strictly to its maker. MOBO-nominated jazz producer, songwriter, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist Zara McFarlane: "This album is dedicated to all the strong, beautiful women who have touched my life with their strength, courage, empathy, humour, wisdom & love." Those women seem to have had the greatest effect on McFarlane originals like the burning ballad "Woman in the Olive Groves" and the particularly gorgeous "Her Eyes," in which McFarlane's breezy melodies resemble those of '70s Stevie Wonder. Some of the arrangements are stripped to bare essentials.
Jazz embodies a tension between rough and smooth, beautiful and dissonant, rhythmic and arrhythmic, which is one of its defining characteristics, a sine qua non. The complex nature of this opposition, however, is that each binary is always already contained fractally within the other — Billie Holiday’s ragged vocals over smooth trumpets, art jazz’s warping near-beyond-recognition of American Songbook standards, or even the fact that arrhythmia depends for its existence on a pre-existing rhythm, the blue note on a major scale. Where swing(-devolving-into-smooth) jazz is now seen as the “prettier” end of the spectrum in relation to the free-jazz tradition, I needn’t rehearse overmuch how in its time early jazz was reviled, both by racist white society and, notoriously, by highbrow critics like Theodor Adorno (even if the latter deserves a hefty asterisk).
The assumption of most nonclassical music journalism, if I understand it correctly, is that everything new has the possibility to be about you, whereas much that is old may never be about you. If you have ever been puzzled by the jazz audience’s insistence that jazz is always to be understood as a century-long continuity, and not only as one first impression after another, listen to “Icons and Influences” (Highnote), a seriously good trio record by the pianist George Cables. It might help.