One of the interesting things about the current scene across Europe is the number of singers developing a different take on the role of the vocalist in the ensemble. I have to confess that, along with, I suspect, a lot of other jazz fans, I have always regarded myself as a fan of instrumental music rather than vocal music. I love Billie Holiday, but have always struggled with singers such as Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter and it took me some time to get into Ella Fitzergerald.
However, these days many singers seem to see themselves as members of the group rather than as the frontline performer with a supporting group. They take solos and interact with the rest of the group as one member of that group. I find this approach very attractive.
Lucia Cadotsch, the Swiss singer based in Berlin, is an excellent example; in her Speak Low trio with bass player Petter Eldh and saxophonist Otis Sandjsö. Lucia takes classic songs such as Speak Low, Moon River and Strange Fruit. Lucia has a beautiful voice and her rendition of the songs is fairly faithful to the originals, but in the trio Petter and Otis create high energy lines that contrast with the vocals. This contrast creates a powerful mix in which the vocals are just one strand. You can check this out here.
The French singer Leila Martial is similar in her approach though her actual music is very different from Lucia’s. Her vocals are always extremely adventurous, but they always integrate with her group, the Baabox trio, or in duo with cellist Valentin Ceccaldi. You can listen to some of her music here.
Cleveland Watkiss has a new group, the Cleveland Watkiss Allstars with Jason Yarde or Pat Thomas, Neil Charles and Mark Sanders. In it Cleveland improvises around various themes, the Windrush, the contribution of the Afro-Caribbean community to Britain, Brexit and ecology. At his recent performance at mac I was particularly impressed by the way Cleveland integrated his vocals with Jason Yarde’s saxophone and electronics and by the groove that Neil Charles and Mark Sanders created. Again this is an integrated group with Cleveland’s vocals one part of the mix. Have a listen here.
Cleveland makes extensive use of the voice processor to create loops and add depth to the vocals. I have recently heard two young vocalists making very effective use of the voice processor. One was Rebecca Wilkins, usually known as Becca. She was performing with a small version of the Argle Bargle group and showed that she is able to use the voice processor to very good effect. Becca is one half of the Wilkins/Harris vocal piano duo (sample here) that will be supporting Kandace Springs at Cheltenham Jazz Festival this year. The second was Ayse Cansu Tanrıkulu, a young Turkish singer currently based in Berlin and working with James Banner’s USINE group as well as her own group (listen here). Cansu is an exciting singer who in her most adventurous moments reminds me a bit of Phil Minton.
My final example is Natalie Sandtorv, a Norwegian singer who appeared in Birmingham last month in a residency with her drummer partner Ole Mofjell in the Not On The Guest List duo; they were working with two Birmingham based musicians, pianist Andy Woodhead and saxophonist Lee Griffiths. Natalie likes to take poems and develop them as lyrics, she also makes use of electronic effects and on this project and in her own group her work is an excellent example of what is happening in contemporary vocal jazz. You can hear a sample of her own group here.