Jazz can be a much-misunderstood genre, thought by many to be the realm of complex time signatures and almost rules-free improvisation, an elitist and virtuosic musical realm. Then again, doesn’t every genre have such sub-sections within their spectrum? Jazz, like every other genre, is first and foremost entertainment, and as such is accessible, infectious and seductive, and that is certainly a perfect by-line for the type of jazz that Sylvia Brooks delivers.
Signature is a lush album, the sort of sounds that evoke the glitz and glamour of sophisticated, up-town cocktail bars, slick supper clubs and late-night hangouts for the hip and famous. Opening with Your Heart is as Black As Night is a great way to set the scene, a cool jazz vibe shot through with bluesy, and sometimes almost rock-leaning guitar work, a nuanced and understated rhythm section and delicate piano lines. All of which build the perfect sonic cocoon for Sylvia Brooks’ voice to emerge from, cool and calculated, seductive and soulful.
And if sophistication is the name of the game, predictability is less so. By the time we get to track three, Red Velvet Rope, things have turned sassy and groovesome, and the sound has headed south of the border; it’s a song that looks you straight in the eye and challenges you not to dance along, a challenge that you are sure to lose.
The Boy That Lived There seems to thread cascades of angelic voices in almost gospel fashion through a dark and delicious jazz ballad, although to call it a ballad might be to underplay its ornate lines and exquisite song-crafting. If it is a ballad, then it is the ballad that sets the benchmark for all ballads to come, jazz or otherwise. The Flea Markets of Paris is a wonderful chanson-esque slice of minimalism floating by on delicate accordions and you can almost picture a quiet Parisian cafe of enchanted devotes held in the moment’s beguiling charms as Sylvia Brooks wanders from table to table delivering her song. The album ends with Boogie Street, a cool and slightly off-kilter, coiling slice of enchanting jazz.
This is Sylvia Brooks’ fourth album to date and she has made a name for herself inhabiting various personas to dispense her songs. This time out, she has taken on the most difficult character role of all…herself. In a genre where the reimagining of standards is a perfectly acceptable career, Sylvia Brooks has delivered a set of original songs many of which could very well be the standards of the future for others to inhabit and reinterpret.