Sarah McKenzie – Paris In The Rain (2017)

Sarah McKenzie - Paris In The Rain (2017)
Artist: Sarah McKenzie
Album: Paris In The Rain
Genre: Vocal Jazz
Origin: Australia
Released: 2017
Quality: mp3, 320 kbps
Tracklist:
Tea For Two
Paris In The Rain
One Jealous Moon
Little Girl Blue
I’m Old Fashioned
When In Rome
Triste
Embraceable You
In The Name Of Love
Don’t Be A Fool
Onwards And Upwards
Day In Day Out
Road Chops

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When Sarah McKenzie released her debut album Don’t Tempt Me in 2011, she showed talent and promise. Five years later, she has delivered on that promise and excelled in her musical craft. Paris in the Rain, her second outing on the Impulse Jazz Label sees her embarking on adventurous new harmonic territory and expanding her skills as a pianist, singer and songwriter.

To me, the idea of Paris always holds connotations of romanticism and history, and here Sarah also takes this approach. She crafts her own tunes – set alongside timeless classics of the jazz repertoire, made famous by the great singers of the day – and marks her own approach to them. All at once they are stepping back in time, yet so modern. Sarah demonstrates why these songs and their associations are indeed timeless.

The album opens with the iconic Tea for Two. The trumpet solo with mute adds a nice tone colour to the mix. Sarah’s zesty and up-tempo rendition sets up the groove with the band, over which her vocals dart and glide. There are plenty of great solo moments on this track.

Following this strong opener, the next track is Sarah’s own Paris in the Rain. The lyric: “I’d trade a summer day again and again, just for one kiss and Paris in the rain” is genius, and harks back to the great masters who penned many of the lyrics to what are now iconic jazz standards. This song shows Sarah’s knack for songwriting and her arrangement weaves splashes of colour in and out of the vocal line.

The optimistic and fun Onwards and Upwards, penned by Sarah, has the feel of a 1950s television show theme. It’s witty, clever and has one of the catchiest melodies I’ve ever heard. Her solo on this track is superb. It’s got hints of Nat King Cole, in that she repeats a fragment of an idea for a period of time before moving to the next. Within this, Sarah articulates each note – demonstrating she can make the piano sing with this kind of phrasing and articulation. The addition of flute and vibraphone also gives it a Henry Mancini-flavour, and you can hear the optimism in this tune.

Sarah approaches When In Rome with a samba feel. She sets up this tune with a fresh take in the form of an ostinato (which returns throughout the track). In the bridge, she launches into a hard swing and pulls the phrase before hitting the climax of the tune on a pedal point. This track approaches this tune much in the way that Blossom Dearie once did, particularly in the final chorus. The phrasing swings hard. Each note gets a slight accent as it descends through the melodic line, and ends with a lush chord that drives the momentum forward. Similarly, I’m Old Fashioned is another ironic standard that gets a fresh outing with inventive musical ideas, while still retaining the feeling and sense of the song itself.

On the more melancholy side of the album are Little Girl Blue and Triste. These moody and introspective tracks offer Sarah the chance to explore more emotional content, which she delivers with stunning conviction. What is remarkable about these tunes in the hands of Sarah is that they both offer optimism in their final moments.

The closing statement is an instrumental Road Chops. Not overtly complex, it is a series of chord changes that allows the musicians to shine in extended solos. What is effective about using this at the end is that it almost acts like an encore to the rest of the album and cements the feeling that you are at a live gig; there’s excitement and energy all around and being jazz, anything could happen.

Sarah has captured that sound world of the 1950s, made famous by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and others. But in Sarah’s hands, it sounds fresh, modern and hip as ever. This album speaks of the nostalgic and romanticised idea of Paris in the Rain, but is never cheesy. This combination of jazz standards and her original songs shows Sarah at her finest. There’s a great sense of ensemble playing and the band is cohesive and energetic at all times. Sarah is an artist who knows exactly where she comes from, where she is, and where she is going.
BY SAMUEL COTTELL

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