Unlike conventional books, the Great American Songbook is a more fluid and ever-evolving place. Whilst artists are free to use their creations to write their own chapters in this august journal, nothing is set in stone, and others are also free to continue the story by offering their own renditions of these classic songs. And that is a concept that Sylvia Brooks, accompanied by Christian Jacob on piano, explores on this exquisite live album.
That the story of any given song is never wholly finished is a point clearly made here, as she adds her own experience, idiosyncracies, elegance and intimacy to a selection of mainly jazz-blues standards.
Highlights, although on an album with such high standards, everything seems like a highlight, include her rendition of Nancy Wilson’s Guess Who I Saw Today, which is a masterclass in space and pathos, a cascade of twinkling piano, brushed rhythms and her crystalline voice setting new benchmarks in vocal style and seduction. The Flea Markets of Paris paints gorgeous scenes of that city, and Night & Day is a wonderfully bustling slice of sonic beauty.
One exciting moment of deviation is the inclusion of The Red Pig Flew Up The Hill, an original be-bop instrumental number from her erstwhile pianist and musical director Jacob. The vocals move aside to let the whole band have its spotlight moment, Brian Scanlon’s Sax and Jeff Bunnell’s Trumpet both working magic for the audience. The deft and delicious bass lines of David Hughes even get a slice of the limelight.
Holding Back Tears is another original, a lovely throwback to the golden age of the jazz singer, a time that Sylvia Brooks is single-handedly ushering back into mainstream consciousness with live performances and albums like this. The Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer classic Come Rain or Come Shine rounds things off, ebbing and flowing between twinkling pianos and brassy salvos, lulling lows and explosive crescendoes.
If jazz seems like a niche musical fashion in the world today, then it is artists such as Sylvia Brooks and these deft and accessible renditions of existing sonic icons not to mention her classics in the making, that could, and indeed should, usher in a whole new age of appreciation for the genre.
Official website: https://sylviabrooks.net/