How do you differentiate yourself as a jazz vocalist? It’s hard enough to stand out in any field, but park a few jazz singers side by side and you’d often have a tough time telling them apart. While there’s an awful lot of talent in the field, the notion of uniqueness is something else altogether. There are some that I stand in awe of, some that are good, some that are damn good, and some that I wish were better.
In the case of Jane Stuart, it’s a case of singing being in her blood. She started at the age of five, only she meant it. As a child, Stuart studied ballet and followed her love of dance and performance through to its logical conclusion. In fact, she credits her experience in tap as formulating her passion for jazz music. It’s that rhythm, you see.
Don’t Look Back, Stuart’s new disc, is the spicy, sun-kissed culmination of dancing and singing and enjoying life. With a roster of enticing, interesting, damn good songs to work with, the New York-based vocalist tosses herself head-first into the arrangements and becomes the beating heart of the music.
Take the way she brings it on “Eleanor Rigby.” The Lennon/McCartney tune is tinkered with ever so slightly. Guitarist Dave Stryker has some space for a smooth solo, while Stuart’s vocals cascade and pour sheer emotion into the piece. The haunting tone of the original remains, but the arrangement’s canny placement of a subtle groove adds some smoke.
When Stuart sings, she understands. The gauzy flow of Johnny Mandel’s title track reveals a deep, patient quality, while her playful stint on Cole Porter’s “Experiment” offers just the right dose of pure energy and spirit.
Don’t Look Back offers a collection of songs delivered by a measured, intellectual, polished vocalist. Jane Stuart is in possession of the soul of music she sings, that’s for sure, and her ability to arrange and rearrange with cleverness and style is well worth exploring.