The name Zoe Gilby is known to me due to her strong social media presence, but I admit that her music was, until now, a complete unknown quantity, which is rather nice in that I came to this album without preconceived ideas about what I was going to hear. Aurora augments the exciting instrumental compositions of US trumpet player and composer Tom Harrell with Zoe Gilby’s own lyrics.
“Leap To The Limelight” opens proceedings with beautifully clear vocals from Zoe with the guitar of Mark Williams supporting. There is a short trumpet section before the guitar takes front and centre with good support from drummer Russ Morgan and bassist Andy Champion. It is at the song’s halfway point that Noel Dennis on trumpet gets to stretch out and deliver a well-rounded tone with the guitar playing a nice supporting role beneath. What really struck me on this track is the clarity of Zoe’s vocals the fact that the words are given space to be heard. Track two, ‘All Night Diner’ is delivered in a similar vein to the opening track but with more from Noel Dennis. This does not mean that Mark Williams on guitar does not get a chance to shine, he does, and he takes that chance very well. Lyrically there is no mistaking that this ‘All Night Diner’ is in the USA and it sounds a fascinating place to be.
‘Your Dear Heart. My Dear Heart’ is a mellow, beautifully played ensemble piece. Musically speaking there is a gently lilting quality to this track set against the assertive vocals, like the singer is using the music to calm but the voice to reassure, to affirm: I enjoyed the way this number played out. ‘Forget The Past’ picks up the tempo and is a wonderful contrasting number to the previous track. Again, the musicians are in fine form with a lovely bass section and the vocals remain clean, crisp with very good diction – so good to hear.
I very much enjoyed the tonal variations from Zoe on ‘A Momentary Place Of Peace’. The tune opens with a simple sounding guitar solo before expanding out to a gentle Bossa Nova beat with Zoe and Noel Dennis trading phrases before Noel steps out with a well-played solo. Mark Williams then takes a brief solo before the group finish strongly as an ensemble. Track six, ‘This Is New’, has a robust confident opening which then morphs into a short jazz fusion section before returning to the opening melody. The track finishes with a jazz rock flourish and wordless vocals which, although not normally something I would choose to listen to, did not detract from the overall sound of piece. ‘This Is New’ is a strong confident tune in that, structurally, it is similar to what went before but stands out in the way that it feels.
‘Ebb & Flow’ gives Zoe the opportunity to show off her warm toned scatting skills to good effect. These skills are followed by solos from Noel Dennis and Andy Champion with the ever-present Russ Morgan laying down nice rhythmic patterns matched by the guitar of Mark Williams. The penultimate track, ‘Shadowed In Solitude’, has some beautifully resonant qualities to it in the way that the guitar and bass play their parts. The horn playing adds a poignancy to the tune and reflects the mood of the lyrics which speak of lost memories: a reflective piece without being melancholy.
‘Celestial Delight’ brings the album to a close and this is where the word Aurora first appears in the lyrics. There is an ethereal quality to this tune, particularly with the use of wordless vocals. There is the return of the jazz fusion guitar but, as before, this is not overplayed and is a good counterpoint to the trumpet of Noel Dennis. As throughout this album the rhythms set down by Andy Champion and Russ Morgan underpin this track and keep it moving along until its strong but abrupt ending.
As I pointed out at the beginning of this review, I approached this album with no preconceived ideas as to what I was going to hear. Although Zoe Gilby’s name is the standout tag on the album cover this is very much a group record with each member bringing their individual skills to a collective whole that works very well. In the press release for Aurora Zoe states that:
“As a songwriter, I have always composed the melody and the lyrics myself. This however, is an entirely different beast, and a one I have loved rising to the challenge of. I’ve loved illustrating Tom’s music further with my own lyrics, absorbing his intricate ideas, his serene delivery and portraying it sensitively with my own, awesome musicians, who help bring my words and these compositions to life.”
I think Zoe and her musicians deserve to be congratulated on the way they have delivered Tom Harrell’s music which, lyrically, has been brought to life by a singer with a distinct style of her own, a style that I very much enjoyed and look forward to hearing more of – in fact I will start by listening to her 2013 album release Twelve Stories also available at Bandcamp.
Aurora will be released Friday, 16 April, on Bandcamp.
Tracklist: 1. Leap To The Limelight 2. The All Night Diner 3. Your Dear Heart, My Dear Heart 4. Forget The Past 5. A Momentary Place of Peace 6. This Is New 7. Ebb & Flow 8. Shadowed in Solitude 9. Celestial Delight
All music composed Tom Harrell
All lyrics composed Zoe Gilby
Musicians: Zoe Gilby – Vocals; Noel Dennis – Trumpet & Flugelhorn; Mark Williams – Guitar; Andy Champion – Double Bass; Russ Morgan Drums