Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Deborah Latz – An Accomplished Artist

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"Deborah is a beautiful singer and a great talent. Fig Tree is wonderful. Really wonderful!"
— Sheila Jordan, 2012 NEA Jazz Master

"... few are in Deborah Latz's league..."
— Scott Yanow, L.A. Jazz Scene

"...a bold singer with a strong sense of her own musical identity."
 — Suzanne Lorge, NYC Jazz Record

"She draws out the melodies, making each note count, and may be one of the finest balladeers in some time."
— Kyle O'Brien, Jazz Society of Oregon's Jazz Scene

I’m always hesitant to call anyone a “Jazz vocalist” these days because I think the connotation of what that implies is different now.

It’s almost as though the use of that reference consigns someone back to the days when Pops, Ella, Billie Holiday, Mel Torme, Peggy Lee and others vocalists of that ilk reigned supreme.

It’s an unfair comparison because the nature of the contemporary music scene is much broader and much more cosmopolitan and provides a Jazz-oriented vocalist with a more sweeping array of influences.

Today, there is no New Orleans scene, Chicago scene, New York scene, West Coast scene, et al. These local, cultural entrepôts have been replaced by a music scene that is international in scope and one that affords myriad, world music influences.

Today’s Jazz is more diffuse, more diverse.

But according to bassist and author Bill Crow, “Jazz is supposed to be fun,” and today’s young performers seem to be having a good time coloring Jazz with Acid Rock, South African chants, Indian Raga rhythms and a whole host of other, stylistic elements.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that today Jazz vocalist is going to come at the music with many new and different musical perspectives. Therein, lies the blessing or the curse of the interesting times in which they live [to paraphrase the Chinese proverb].

How do you find your own style as a Jazz vocalist today with all these competing influences?

Enter Deborah Latz!

Deborah’s latest CD – Fig Tree – is scheduled for release today, May 7, 2013 and it is an artistic feast for the senses, let alone, one’s Jazz sensibilities.

The artwork and graphics under the direction of Kristopher Pelletier and Todd Weinstein’s photographs of Deborah that populate the jewel case make the CD a joy to behold and to hold.

The recording and mixing of Michael Brorby, the mastering of Gene Paul and the attention to detail of co-producer Don Flagg has created a recorded sound so intimate you’d swear you were sitting in the middle of the music as it is being performed.

And the musicianship on display here is simply startling; it’s what differentiates the recording from so many of today’s self-produced efforts.

Deborah Latz has something to say and she has the talent and the ability to say it.

Deborah Latz is not putting on airs, she’s not aping or miming or imitating, she is an accomplished Jazz vocalist in her own right.

She is accomplished in the fullest meaning of the word: highly trained, skillful, finished, complete, polished, refined, realized.

Deborah’s Jazz vocals have a presence and once you’ve been in their presence your enraptured by it.

When she sings the following lyrics from the legendary Alberta Hunter’s I’m Having a Good Time she infuses them with such a strong mixture of sincerity and humor that you find yourself nodding with approval:

“I’m livin’ my life while I’m livin’
‘cause tomorrow I may die.
That’s why I’m havin’ a ball today,
And I ain’t passin’ nothin’ by.

Her voice is rich; her enunciation is clear; she has a great sense of time. And depending on the mood she is trying to evoke, Deborah’s voice has just the right amount of punch and pop or just enough gentleness and tenderness. She is in command because she knows what she is doing and she knows what she wants to do.

Deborah Latz is an accomplished artist and so are the musicians who work with her on Fig Tree: pianist Jon Davis, guitarist John Hart, bassist, Roy Parker, drummer Willard Dyson and guest stars Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax and percussion and the voice of Abdoulaye Diabate.

All of them are interesting soloists and Deborah offers generous dollops of the solo spotlight to each of them throughout the CD’s fourteen tracks. In this regard, she reminds me of vocalist Tierney Sutton who maintains that “I make music with the guys in the band, not in spite of them.”

I’ve mentioned this previously in blog features - when I’m listening to a Jazz artist for the first time, I need some place to set my ears – something that gives me a known frame of reference in which to understand what the vocalist/musician is doing with and in the music.

There are a number of such reference points on Fig Tree.

But although you are familiar with Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies, or Randy Weston ‘s Hi-Fly with Jon Hendricks’ lyrics, or Jobim’s Corcovado [Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars] with Gene Lees’ lyrics, you’ve never heard them rendered like this before. This is where the diversity and diffused musical influences are brought to bear and they serve to help make Deborah a Jazz vocalist of her time.

You Are and She Was are lyrical love poems penned by Deborah and she also contributes another original as the title tune Fig Tree which as Scott Yanow describes in his insert notes “weaves a fantastical tale using offbeat phrasing, unusual syllables and unexpected sounds with swinging bass and drums. Deborah’s whimsical lyrics surprise and delight.”

Scott’s always masterful insert notes afford the following background information on Deborah and “the guys in the band.”

“Inventive, edgy, fearless, delicate, fun, a passion for music — these are some of the words Deborah Latz brings to mind. A consummate performer, Deborah gives us a range of expression extending from intimate to raucous to otherworldly, and all with a beautiful voice. Following her previously acclaimed discs, Toward Love and Lifeline, Fig Tree is a wide-ranging and ambitious project, backed by a remarkable set of players, that includes acid jazz, spellbinding ballads, songs in Portuguese and Greek, and three originals worthy of becoming new standards.

Latz attacks each genre with verve and style, demonstrating skills reminiscent of Mel Torme in her purity and pitch, but also of Joao Gilberto when she brings us to velvety intimate moments. Deborah has a distinctive sound that matches her broad musical interests — gentle pianissimo at times, and edgy and brassy when she is showing us a spark of fire. And, like Betty Carter, she can deconstruct a song to create a surprising new sound, uniquely her own.

In June 2011, Latz formed a group with pianist Jon Davis, guitarist John Hart, and bassist Ray Parker. Within a short time, they knew they needed to record the magic that they were creating. Deborah notes, ‘We found an organic place, where we all created in the moment. Taking our time, the ideas started to flow, and within just a few sessions we found our groove. I realized we had to capture it, while it was still fresh.’

Jon Davis, who played and recorded with the late, great bassist Jaco Pastorius, is a superbly skilled and exceptionally intuitive pianist. ‘I feel a musical telepathy with Jon,’ Latz said. ‘We challenge one another, and suddenly we're moving, dancing, down an unexpected and unknown path. It's exhilarating!’

John Hart, known for his long tenure with organ master Jack McDuff has also played guitar with trumpeter Randy Brecker and jazz singer Jon Hendricks, among other greats. ‘John is a connoisseur of the guitar. And he has a sly sense of humor — in a flash second he can send us off in an entirely new direction!’ Latz observes, ‘We always have a super great time!’

Bassist Ray Parker, who worked with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and vocalist Bobby McFerrin, has a distinctive sound and impressive versatility, highlighted here in some outstanding duets and solos. ‘Like when Ray gets behind the wheel and puts the pedal to the metal, he is always on the move,’ Latz explains. ‘Yet at times, when he takes on a slow ballad, he can create some of the most languid, sensitive lines.’

Willard Dyson, who joined the group on drums, has worked regularly with singers Michael Franks, Regina Belle, and Jimmy Scott. Dyson is both a powerful player and very sympathetic in his support of the lead voices. ‘Willard can funk it up! His rhythmic choices are inspired and unconventional, it's a thrill to play together!’

Avant garde jazz instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum and singer Abdoulaye Diabate are special guests on Fig Tree. ‘I heard Peter play with Omar Sosa at the Blue Note in May 2011 and I was blown away,’ remembers Deborah. ‘He played the flute, put it down, blew the tenor, put it down, and went on to various Brazilian and African percussion instruments. Every one of them amazing! I knew at that moment I'd like him to play on my CD.’ And later, Latz heard Diabate sing with Apfelbaum’s band, Hieroglyphics. ‘Abdoulaye is an extraordinarily gifted Griot (storyteller) singer from Mali, and I am so happy that he lent his soulful voice, and heart, to my original, She Was.'

Nancy Hudgins of Ann Braithewaite find team at Braithwaite & Katz sent along the following media relations information about Deborah’s forthcoming Fig Tree CD:

“From the opening selection, Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" with an acid jazz feel, to Latz' offbeat and eccentric title track "Fig Tree," to a beautiful and haunting piano duet on Mercer and Mancini's, "Moon River," Deborah Latz' third CD, Fig Tree, is a breakout performance, proving her artistic mastery as vocalist, songwriter and arranger. The CD will be released on the June Moon Productions (JMP) label on May 7, 2013.

Latz' recording career began in 2004 with her debut CD, Toward Love featuring Jimmy Wormworth, which earned immediate praise: "Her voice rings with a fetching richness...I'm Bewitched." (Dan McClenaghan, AllAboutJazz.com,) "...one of the BEST new voices I've heard in a LONG time...." (Jan Jenson, Jazz Now). Her 2008 sophomore release Lifeline featuring Joel Frahm, received even wider critical acclaim: "’I Didn't Know’ hits glory strides a la Carla White." (Fred Bouchard, DownBeat). "I hadn't heard this lady until I played 'Lifeline,' but I'm now an ardent fan." (Steve Emerine, Arizona Daily Star), "...a sensibility that incites a lyric with her innate dramatic instincts..." (Alan Bargebuhr, Cadence). "Latz knows how to deliver the songs with a different slant... jazz vocal fans have a new star to celebrate."(Chris Spector, Midwest Record).

Latz comes to jazz after an award-winning career in dramatic and musical theater, where she garnered a Best Actress Award at the Jerzy Grotowski Theatre Festival in Poland for her one-woman performance of Juliet, and recorded the original song, "I'm Neurotic Over You" for the off-Broadway comedy, High Infidelity starring John Davidson and Morgan Fairchild. Latz received rave reviews in New York and Europe for Travels With Ma Own Self, the one-woman musical that she wrote, produced and performed. She studied theater at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, at the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England, and in New York City with Richard Edelman best known for his work with the Living Theater and the Neighborhood Playhouse.

With a creative take on both the Great American Songbook and contemporary jazz, Latz has recorded dynamic and unpredictable interpretations of standards on Fig Tree, and her original pieces are, indeed, worthy of becoming new standards.

On "Blue Skies" Latz shows her funk chops, and allows the lyrics to breath, while offering some signature scatting. John Hart sets up hip, clean guitar lines, while Ray Parker and Willard Dyson hold down the rhythm on bass and drums. Latz' original and title track, "Fig Tree" weaves a fantastical tale combining offbeat syllables and unexpected sounds with a swinging bass and drums. Latz' whimsical lyrics surprise and delight, and the solos alternate in and out of time with Latz, Davis and Hart clearly digging in and having a ball. "You Are" another Latz original, opens with the prodigious Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax. Apfelbaum lays the groundwork for this indelible love poem told with Latz' fresh and poignant delivery intertwining with the tenor sax, while Willard Dyson's sparse percussion lends an otherworldly take. And on the breathtakingly beautiful duet, "Moon River," Jon Davis is a genius as he caresses the keys, while Latz answers with a devastatingly heartfelt delivery.

Fig Tree is richly shaped and supported by veteran jazz artists Jon Davis on piano, John Hart on guitars, Ray Parker on bass, Willard Dyson on drums, and special guests Peter Apfelbaum on saxes, flutes, percussion and Abdoulaye Diabate, guest voice on Latz' original "She Was." Collectively these jazz veterans have played and recorded with Sonny Fortune, Stan Getz, James Moody, Maria Schneider, Randy Brecker, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Cobb, Regina Belle, Michael Franks, Rosa Passes, Jon Hendricks, Jimmy Scott, Don Byron, Jaco Pastorious, and Omar Sosa, among many others.

Latz most recently played at CD Blues Cafe in Beijing, China and was invited to sing in duo with Beijing's celebrated jazz pianist, Liang Heping. In Paris, she has played with Alain Jean-Marie, France's jazz piano luminary, at Cafe Universel, Le Neuf Jazz Club, Sept Lezards and Atelier de la Main d'Or and will continue her collaboration with Jean-Marie in Fall 2013. On her 2011 West Coast tour she headlined in Seattle, Portland and Eureka, CA and in 2010 she played to packed houses in Kansas City at Jardine's Jazz Club.

Fig Tree is truly a major accomplishment. It is, in fact, Latz' breakout performance as vocalist, songwriter, and arranger. From the acid jazz interpretation of "Blue Skies," to the dead-on rendition of "S'Wonderful," to the delightful, funky rhythms of "Fig Tree," Deborah Latz demonstrates an outstanding range of technique and creative musicality that places her at the forefront of jazz today.”

Fig Tree is available through iTunes and Amazon.com and for those of you with ease of access to New York City, Deborah will be celebrating the CD’s release with a May 18th appearance at the Somethin’ Jazz Club.

Deborah has two websites: www.deborahlatz.com and www.sonicbirds.com/deborahlatz.

With the help of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and the production facilities of StudioCerra, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles, put together the following video which features Deborah singing Alberta Hunter’s I’m Having A Good Time with John Hart on guitar, Jon Davis on piano, Ray Parker on bass and Willard Dyson on drums.

Why not pick-up a copy of Fig Tree and join the party?

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