Although vocalist Vicki Burns specializes in the romantic music of the 20th century, she is not tethered to the Great American Songbook. Her latest album release, Lotus Blossom Days, comprises twelve songs, three of which are originals, including ‘Love Spell’ and ‘Siren Song’, written by Burns, and ‘You Don’t Have to Believe’, written by her good friend, vocalist Tessa Souter. Of the other tunes, all started life as instrumentals, except for the standards, ‘This Times the Dream’s on Me’, ‘Out of This World’, and ‘Close Your Eyes’.
Burns opens the album with the Latin swing ‘If You Never Fall in Love with Me’. Originally called ‘Del Sasser’ the song was written by Sam Jones with lyrics added later by Donald Wolf. The lyrics to Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Lotus Blossom Days’ and ‘Bittersweet’ were written by Roger Shore, who was thrilled that Burns was singing his songs. Lee Morgan’s ‘The Sidewinder’ is re-named ‘Watch Out’ with lyrics by Burn’s student Mary Ellen Donald. Rock musician Chris Caswell wrote lyrics to Coltrane’s ‘Equinox’ and titled it ‘A Long Way to Go’. Carmen McCrae first sang ‘It’s Over Now’, with lyrics by Mike Ferro to Thelonious Monk’s ‘Well You Needn’t’.
For the purpose of this review, I will focus on the three original tunes referenced above beginning with ‘Love Spell’. The tune opens with a piano run from Art Hirahara followed by a nice Sam Bevan bass line. Dayne Stephens adds some great sax voicing before Vicki Burns comes in with her well phrased vocals. Though this is an original tune it does have a comforting familiarity about it, which means that it will not frighten those jazz listeners wary about something new. This tune is put across very well, both vocally and musically, and I have to wonder why, on the strength of this number, the album has only three original compositions included.
‘You Don’t Have To Believe’ is very different in style to ‘Love Spell’ with its North African feel (think Morocco) carried by the trumpet playing of Josh Deutsch and the wordless call to prayer like vocals of Burns. The vocal delivery here has a deliberate placing, the diction has a firmness to it that gives the idea that what is being sung is important and needs to be heard. This track is not an easy listen but does highlight that Vicki Burns is prepared to do something different and, with the calibre of the musicians around her, make it work.
‘Siren Song’ is the last of the original tunes and is a duet with Art Hirahara. Plaintive is the word that came to mind on first hearing this tune and it is only the piano lines that prevent it from sounding morbid. There is a poetic structure to the song and Burns uses her vocal range to good effect, particularly towards the latter stages of the song. The beauty in this tune is in its relatively simple sounding form that emphasises the sounds produced by piano and vocals.
Vicki Burns is a vocalist I have not heard before and the press release pack makes mention of her three-octave vocal range, something I don’t feel she made enough use of across this album. There are some good song choices here and I like what has been done with tunes like ‘The Sidewinder’ (‘Watch Out’ at track six). For me, the twelve tracks featured have benefitted from the choice of accompanying musicians, many of whom have led their own bands and whose releases can be found in my own CD collection, and that, in my opinion is what makes this album work.
Musicians: Vicki Burns – vocals; Art Hirahara – piano; Sam Bevan – bass; Billy Drummond – drums; Dayna Stephens – tenor & baritone sax (3, 4, 12); Josh Deutsch – trumpet (1, 2, 9); Mas Koga – flute & baritone sax (2); Nick Vayenas – trombone (1, 9).
Tracklist: 1. If You Never Fall in Love with Me/Del Sasser. 2. Close Your Eyes. 3. Love Spell. 4. Lotus Blossom Days. 5. Bittersweet. 6. Watch Out/The Sidewinder. 7. A Long Way to Go/Equinox. 8. It’s Over Now/Well You Needn’t. 9. You Don’t Have to Believe. 10. This Time The Dream’s On Me. 11. Siren Song. 12. Out of This World.