Eric Van Aro
By Brian Arsenault
You take a little Francis Albert phrasing, some Mel Torme smoothness and some Dr John deep, deep tones and you start to bubble up some of what Eric Van Aro is on Obsession.
The man takes back for male jazz vocalists a little of the dominance of female jazz singers in recent years.
This is a voice that could lure the unwary on the rocks of a club but also fill a Broadway stage, depending on material.
That club I mentioned, it’s a small room, so for most of the evening there’s only enough space for the singer and a pianist. That’s fabulous Fabio Gianni on piano and his work with Eric here goes beyond accompaniment.
He supports and enhances the vocals so well that at times, they become one. In musicality. In emotionality. In tonality. In totality.
Regarding the album’s songs, I could start anywhere so I’ll start with my favorite track, the jazz classic “Since I Fell For You.” All the yearning. The deeply felt bluesy sense of building emotion. The crescendos.
Gianni is right there, right there with him the whole damn song. A powerhouse.
Then jump to the passionate delicacy of “With You I’m Born Again,” where Eric’s deep tones are balanced wonderfully by the higher notes of Sheri Pedigo. It’s a love song and a beautiful one.
More remarkably, it’s an intelligent one. A musical could probably be written around this song as its centerpiece.
Sheri is generally considered a country singer. Does that seem unusual? Consider that Duke Ellington is credited with saying that there are only two kinds of music, one of them good. Other voices are sometimes cited as the source of the remark but, well, they aren’t Ellington.
One of the joys of early twenty-first century music is that there are artists like Van Aro and Gianni who are not obstructed by genre and labels, who can reach widely, sometimes even beyond what critics can put in their little boxes. “I’m free,” Van Aro sings on the opening song “I’m Not Anyone,” and he is. Free from conformity, conventionality, constrictions.
So the same album can feature work from the Pauls Anka and Williams to Mac Rebbenack to Stevie Wonder.
With a title song, “Obsession,” that injects Bossa Nova into the album’s stew. That’s not surprising, as Eric’s mother is Caterina Valente, the fine Italian singer who brought Brazilian music to wider audiences before just about anyone.
And since it’s better to do Bossa Nova with true percussion, the masterful Sebastian Mambretti sits in.
The Doctor (John) is in when Van Aro and Gianni do a contemplative version of “Rain.” The sense of loss is so great you can hear the heavy rain all night.
“Ordinary Fool” plays like a tune from the American Songbook that just hasn’t been totally recognized yet. And you’ll be “Dancing to The Rhythm” on the way out as a funky Eric jazzes up the Stevie Wonder tune.
A guy whose mother spoke Italian to him as a child, his father German, and his nanny French, just gave us a fine American jazz album. And in English.
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