Masha Campagne,
Like Water, Like Air
(independent, 2012)

Jazz singing is hard to pull off. In less than superb hands, it comes across as if the singer didn't know the melody and was searching for it, singing all around it but never quite landing on the right note. In those instances where the vocalist tries to emulate an instrument, like James Moody pretending to be a tenor sax, it can come across as pretentious and disastrous. Too often, the jazz singer just sounds like a brass player who had to hock his instrument but went to the audition anyway.

Fortunately, for the most part, Masha Campagne escapes these traps on Like Water, Like Air. The album opener, "It Could Happen to You," comes perilously close to the steel teeth of the trap, though. Campagne sings in the neighborhood of the melody, although she never walks down the right street. She also does a little scat singing on the cut, which is an art I never quite have been able to develop an affection for. But she survives that cut and with the Latin-themed followup, "Outra Vez," begins to find her way. Her voice is sharp and strong when she uses it, but like a lot of jazz singers, she prefers a monotoned treatment.

Her band, led by co-producer and arranger Weber Iago, whose piano and Fender Rhodes drive the ensemble, is fabulous. The arrangements are sharp and the pair of them neatly avoid the trap that snares so many indie albums -- a reliance on too small a core of musicians, so that every chart sounds the same. Campagne and Iago bring in the players they need to support each song, winding up with instrumentation that ranges from a harmonica to a bass clarinet.

In all, it's almost enough to overcome a disposition against vocal jazz.


[ visit the artist's website ]

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

15 December 2012

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