I consider myself a jazz fan – there I said it – but even I tentatively dip my toe when it comes to jazz vocalists, there are too many people trying to emulate the sound of Ella or Nina and losing their own sound in the process. Maybe this is why jazz struggles to find as big as audience as some musical genres, who knows?
Anyway, you should never start a review with a question, unless that question is ‘is the music any good?’ and, I’m happy to say, it is.
Zoe Gilby is a jazz singer of some pedigree, back in 2019 she won the Parliamentary award for her singing and on ‘Aurora’, you can hear why.
Mixing a style that is part Diana Krall and part Kate Bush – trust me on this, at times her vocal delivery is like a performance of its own, it’s quite theatrical on songs such as ‘This Is New’ and ‘Celestial Delight’ – she fronts the band but never forgets the golden rule of jazz music; don’t crowd your bandmates.
This is the real guts to the album, each member knows his/her job and never does it feel cramped or hurried, the transitions from vocals to trumpet (played impressively by Noel Dennis) to Mark Williams’ guitar solos are seamless and cleverly done. Backed up by a strong rhythm section of Andy Champion and Russ Morgan – on double bass and drums respectively – the music produced is full and powerful.
Like I said, I’m tentative with vocal jazz, I much prefer a roaring, energetic horn solo, but there is something immediately engaging in Gilby’s voice, she weaves clever lyrics through Tom Harrell’s music (my favourite being “sweet apple pie, greasy spoon…” on ‘The All Night Diner’ bringing a feeling of comfort but immediately followed by the tarnished – a little like jazz itself) and the variation within the nine tracks is enough to keep anyone interested.
We go from a strong opener in ‘Leap to the Limelight’, straight into ‘The All Night Diner’ before taking it down a little. ‘A Momentary Place of Peace’ puts me in mind of those sea-faring cruise ship jazz songs of the 1940’s before we have the dramatic, made-for-the-stage ‘This is New’. There is even time for some scat work on ‘Ebb and Flow’ before a Diana Krall-esque ‘Shadowed and Solitude’ reminding me of the Canadian singers work on ‘The Girl in the Other Room’ album. Final track ‘Celestial Delight’ brings the album to a close and I’ll admit I immediately put this song on repeat, there is something haunting yet optimistic about it, perhaps giving the album a conceptual feel.
All in all, I loved it, from the changing drum patterns to the double bass sound that allows you to hear every vibration from the strings (bassists call it ‘mwah’) to the vocal delivery. I think I’ve stumbled onto a gem of an artist, I’ll be digging into the back catalogue now…