Kat Edmonson, “Take To The Sky”

 [Convivium]
 

February 2010

 

                       



Let us head down to Austin, Texas to round up some needed heat in these wintry months and take in the warmth and sass of a fabulous new singer, Kat Edmonson. Edmonson’s Take To The Sky is a stunning debut, an amalgam of jazz and pop standards re-worked in dazzling, new arrangements all gift-wrapped in Edmonson’s distinctive vocal style and the brilliant artistry of her supporting band. Capturing all of this wonderful energy is the recording team of Jim Valentine, Al Schmitt and Doug Sax, who produce a recording that is lush and atmospheric, with great image dimensionality and a deep, layered soundstage.

    

The recording begins with a warm, simmering version of Heyward and Gershwin’s “Summertime,” beautifully re-arranged into a pulsating ballad. The piece commences with quiet, solemn chords from Kevin Lovejoy’s piano, joined shortly by Eric Revis’ deep bass plucks. Edmonson enters with the young green shoots of her tender vocals, pushed further up to the sun by J.J. Johnson’s cymbals and Chris Lovejoy’s hand percussion. The whole piece has the quality of a comforting lullaby, quietly soaring on Edmonson’s lilting vocals, cascading higher and higher over those Primary Earth piano chords. Edmonson’s wispy vocals gather substance and lots of air in a funky duet here with Ron Westray on his muted trombone. Westray has several other wonderful solos on trombone and euphonium on this recording as he shadows and converses with Edmonson. For example, on the superb “One Fine Day,” Westray enters with a tear-laden solo on his muted trombone that lays bear all of the brewing feelings of this tune, ingeniously transformed here from the original pop version to a sassy, Blues ballad. Revis’ pungent walking bass lines lay the foundation, while Edmonson sings tender and wispy above. Westray’s trombone enters the fray with muted, deep tones, slipping and sliding along the way. The drama concludes when Edmonson reaches down to that same deep well provided by the low notes of the trombone and then slurs up to a high, whispered vocal conclusion, both airy and intimate.

              

A pair of old chestnuts, Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” and “Just One Of Those Things” are also transformed here into new, sparkling outfits decked out in Rock and Blues accents. “Night And Day” struts out big and bold, with huge bass and cymbal crashes, propelling Edmonson’s wily and breathy vocals, traversing hills and valleys with her light, sassy, alluring presence. “Just One Of Those Things” takes off on staccato piano notes that hit hard, while Edmonson enters blushing and bright with a breathy, light vocal presence. She touches high and low, sardonically moving in and out of the great, swashbuckling presence of John Ellis’ tenor sax solo. The brilliant re-shaping of jazz and pop standards in the hands of Edmonson and her crack band continues in their bombastic version of the oldie, but goodie, “Lovefool.” We know we are on to something special here when at the start, Edmonson entices with her emotive vocals layered over muted horns, braying in sarcastic, soft tones. As soon as Westbray hits bottom on his trombone we are sent off on a Latin tinged version of this classic. Along the way, Edmonson flirts and flits with her distinctive vocal styling, inviting us in with her breathy pauses and beautiful swoons from light, tender highs to warm, baritone lows.

The eclectic journey ends with a version of John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over”, transformed into another sensuous ballad, beautifully rendered with Edmonson’s distinctive, supple vocals. Edmonson glides from deep baritone colors to burnished highs, with each verse cushioned in the embrace of piano, bass and the huge swaths of metallic color from JJ Johnson’s decaying cymbals. This gorgeous arrangement concludes with Lovejoy returning to the solemn piano chords that began Take To The Sky, thus ingeniously bringing us around to the very beginning of Edmonson’s recording; “(Just like) Starting Over.” But before we can hit replay, Edmonson offers us a special, unadvertised parting kiss: a solo version of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.” Here is Edmonson in all of her vocal glory, out front and personal, with a tender vocal exploration that is stunningly clear, expressive and beautifully nuanced. When we hear the sound of the stage door closing behind her, we will want to follow Edmonson and her band to wherever her muse may lead them next.

We welcome any suggestions for audiophile recording gems. Please write to nelsonbrill@stereotimes.com