Book Review:Vocal Complete: Female Voice Jazz Standards

In my 26 years of performing, I’ve had my share of successful (and horrifying) auditions. Little is as soul-crushingly terrifying as standing alone in front of a table full of people and opening your mouth to sing. When you forget the lyrics (did that), practiced the song in the wrong key (did that), or realize that you really don’t know the song very well (oh yes), you leave the audition with the inevitable haunted feeling that you could have done better.



 The new release from Alfred Publishing, Vocal Complete: Female Voice Jazz Standards, aims to eliminate all that stress. Alfred Publishing is a venerable music publishing company, but this book is far superior to their other songbooks currently in my library.

First, the song selection is distinctly superior and specifically tailored to female vocals (there is a male version as well), with 16 classic jazz standards such as Anything Goes, At Last, and Embraceable You. The sheet music is clear and easy to read, also easy to photocopy. Chords are provided for guitar accompaniment and lyric sheets are provided for those who cannot read sheet music.

Each song has two versions: a performance track for learning and an instrumental track for singing along. If you perform live, it’s great to have the option to sing with a CD. Most auditions, however, require you to bring sheet music for their pianist. This book/CD set allows you to arrive fully prepared and confident to sing.

The orchestration for the instrumentals is fully orchestrated, with a real jazz pianist. The vocalists on the CDs are believable with songs popularized by legendary singers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Barbra Streisand. The coolest new feature was the Tune N’ Tempo Changer – on computer, you can customize the key and tempo of each playback track to suit your voice.

The sheet music does match the key of the backing track, which eliminates one long-standing problem for performers: if you can find a recording of the song, it’s often adjusted in key for the singer and does not reflect the original key. Thus, my disastrous audition where I had prepared my song two full steps lower than the sheet music… if only I’d had this book then!
If you love performing classic jazz standards, you need to have this book in your music bag. I know I’ll be using it for my next audition.


 Track Listing:
* Anything Goes * At Last * Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered * Cry Me a River * Don’t Rain on My Parade * Dream a Little Dream of Me * Embraceable You * I Get a Kick Out of You * Misty * My Funny Valentine * Over the Rainbow * Someone to Watch Over Me * Summertime * They Can’t Take That Away From Me * Whatever Lola Wants * When I Fall in Love

Article first published as Book Review:Vocal Complete: Female Voice Jazz Standards by Alfred Publishing on Blogcritics.

Music Review: Handmade by Hindi Zahra

Article first published as Music Review: Hindi Zahra – Handmade on Blogcritics.

Most people would say four or five focused listens would probably be sufficient to write an album’s review. As far as Hindi Zahra’s Handmade (Naïve Records), I passed that threshold weeks ago. I can’t stop listening to it. I keep it in my car; no matter where I go, I find a song which speaks to my mood. To date this is easily my favorite album this year, at once sophisticated, exotic and evocative.

Though she would likely be categorized under “World Music,” Zahra fuses musical cultures freely to create her own sounds. A Berber girl born in Morocco, she takes her own musical heritage and seamlessly integrates it with blues, jazz and gypsy, among countless other influences.

As a breakthrough album, Handmade is nothing short of astonishing. Zahra wrote the songs, played instruments, sang and self-produced with a restrained hand. Each track offers slightly different tones and shades, like a rainbow scarf slipping through your hands.

“Beautiful Tango” makes you want to dance barefoot, a swirl of silk tied on, arms jangling with a hundred bracelets — rather like Hindi Zahra: “Come speak the secret words in Spanish / Where the night turns out the light of day for us to show some courage,” she croons, against a backdrop of hand-claps and hand drums.

You should listen to “Fascination” in the car with the window down, wrist swimming against the wind. Listening to her pronunciations is a pleasure; she says “sou-ven-ir,” reminding you of the word’s French origin. “Set Me Free” feels like a modern update of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”: “Come on and break those chains / and leave me alone baby / ‘Cause you don’t know how to give me good love / And mine is never enough.”

“Imik Si Mik” has a faint Paris Combo flavor and is so upbeat that you can’t help but bounce along, despite the faint melancholy of its lyrics. With its chill and dreamy vibe, “Kiss & Thrills” is mesmerizing. I don’t so much as listen to this song as I do feel it, and it’s jolting when it ends.

At first I thought the live set offered at the end of Handmade might strike me as a little redundant, as several of its songs are repeated. I was completely wrong. In this unplugged context she reinvents the studio versions, stripping out the production to offer more old-school interpretations.

Zahra quite possibly is the love child of Edith Piaf and Josephine Baker, alternatively warm and then cool, her voice ululating with suppleness. If Casablanca was remade (as problematic as that would be), I’d instantly want her cast as a torch singer in Sam’s Place. I want to hear her cover all the War-era tunes, starting with “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen.” Another standout is “Don’t Forget,” rendered in the style of Doris Day or Billie Holiday.

I spend a lot of time listening to music from past eras, and so I was slow to realize the uniqueness of the sound this young musician creates. In comparison with much of today’s frenetic, auto-tuned beats, Hindi Zahra’s music feels relievingly classic, like dipping into a pool of fresh, cool water.

Handmade was heralded as one of the most anticipated albums of the fall by New York Magazine. Do yourself a big favor and purchase this album. Share it with your friends; they’ll think you’ve been clairvoyant once Zahra achieves the massive commercial success she deserves.

Handmade will be available on Amazon.com as a digital download on September 26. Visit Hindi Zahra’s official website and YouTube channel for more information.

3 Question View – Ananda

This post is the eighth of a new series, highlighting talented artists whose work I admire. You can find quick links to the other 3QV’s on the right-hand sidebar of the blog.

I call it ‘3 Question View’ because it’s limited to three questions (Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three) and it’s a rather truncated inter-view, designed to elicit three compelling answers from each artistic mind.

3 Question View – Ananda 
(Guillaume Ananda Coantic)
Singer/Songwriter, www.followananda.com
Anna:
Your influences have been global, as your French parents met in India and you have lived in places as diverse as Ghana and New York. How have the places you lived shaded the ideas and rhythms of your music? Where would you like to live next?
Ananda:
Traveling and meeting new people is definitely a key source of inspiration. The time I spent in Ghana was such an experience and I’ve learned a lot recording with the Pidgen Music label. It was also fantastic to go on tour with such amazing West African musicians.

Working with Tony Graci in New York was unforgettable and the recording of We Will Go was such a smooth process. Tony is a talented music producer and an incredible musician. I love the energy of NYC; it is very powerful.

Now I’m planning to spend some time in Nashville and very much looking forward to that.

Anna:
You started playing instruments at the age of 12. In your video “You and Me”, you play piano quite lyrically. When you are writing a song, how do you decide what will accompany your voice? Do you choose the piano versus the guitar based on mood? Which is easier to write for? What is an instrument you would like to learn?
Ananda:
Thank you. Actually, I like to compose and play on both guitar and piano. It’s just a different way to express my feelings, like using different languages to sing. Now I’ve started to play the banjo and it’s a great instrument; it can bring a certain mood, a very unique feeling.

Anna:
Your newest video is called “Standing Alone”. The lyrics are simple (“I’m standing alone now / Alone”), but the imagery communicates a vast feeling of solitude and yearning. What was the inspiration for this song and video? In your creative process, what is the part of being alone that you like best? And least?

Ananda:
This song represents for me a new way to create music. I’ve been working with a twelve-musician band in Ghana and then I started to compose the album We Will Go, which is more personal and mainly based on guitar-voice combinations. Also, I like to be alone in nature, that helps me to find some peace of mind. It’s really useful when writing songs!

I like writing songs on my own, but then at some point it’s vital for me to play with musicians.

Ananda
You can visit Ananda’s website: www.followananda.com
Follow Ananda on Twitter: @followananda
Follow Ananda on Facebook: www.facebook.com/followananda
Purchase We Will Go on iTunes