By Don Heckman
Amanda Brecker, a new face in the continually expanding jazz vocal field, made a rare Southland appearance Wednesday night at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Arriving shortly after the release of her new CD, Blossom (Decca), she spent a substantial portion of her two set-program singing the songs of James Taylor and Carole King that she covers on the album.
That’s a memorable repertoire, one that was the virtual soundtrack for many music fans in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s via songs such as “It’s Too Late Now,” “Sweet Baby James,” and more.
In contrast, Brecker, who plays guitar and piano, also included a substantial serving of her own songs, many from Here I Am, her award-winning first album, released in Japan.
Conceptually, the combination is an intriguing career move for Brecker. Her youthful energy, soaring vocals and contemporary interpretations open the classic King/Taylor repertoire for a potentially broader demographic than graying, boomer memorabilia seekers. Probably even a younger audience. Add to that her own imaginative songs, which have clearly been influenced by the King/Taylor singer/songwriter styles.
But the real key, of course, is how effectively she delivers it. Her recordings have been well received, the work of a gifted young artist. (Her creative credentials have clearly been enhanced by the legacy of her parents – Brazilian jazz pianist/singer Eliane Elias and jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker.)
In addition, her performance at Vibrato was backed by the sterling accompaniment of guitarists Jesse Harris (who also produced Blossom) and Anthony Wilson, bassist Lee Sklar (who performed on some of the original King and Taylor recordings), pianist Jon Gilutin and drummer Mike Shapiro.
However, Brecker’s determined effort — along with Jesse Harris, her producer — to remain close, in concept and arrangement, to the original King/Taylor versions tended to somewhat limit her expressive potential. And I couldn’t help but wonder what she might have done with songs such as “You’ve Got A Friend,” “I Don’t Want To Be Lonely Tonight, ”So Far Away” and “You Can Close Your Eyes” had she viewed them through the prism of her own creativity.
Nor did her originals, which were unfamiliar items, always emerge with the clarity they deserved. Brecker is a song writer with a promising future. But in performance, she would be well advised, at this stage, to frame her songs with the sort of brief introduction that could help draw her listeners into the heart of her musical story telling.
All that said, it was nonetheless a real pleasure to hear Amanda Brecker’s undeniable talents up close and personal. Amid the crowds of arriving female jazz singers, she’s one of a kind.
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Amanda Brecker photo by Bobby Colomby.
Amanda Brecker Band photo by Faith Frenz.