People found different ways to fill their time during the Covid-19 lockdown. Some people took up baking and some studied a new language. Vocalist Ada Bird Wolfe decided to use her time to write music. She treated writing like a job she had to go to every day, and by the end of 2020, she had written 45 songs. Twelve of those songs appear on her latest album release, Odd Bird.
Wolfe has worked for many years in Los Angeles with pianist, arranger, and composer JAMIESON TROTTER, one of the busiest, first-call musicians in town and a favourite accompanist among vocalists. In 2015, they performed jazz and blues shows called Jazzography and Blues-A-Licious, among others. Then in 2016, Wolfe created a series of live shows called Giant Shoulders, which highlights and interprets the works of jazz legends. The three shows were titled Monk-O-Sphere, And the Word Was Mingus, and The Saint and the Sinner Man: Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
Odd Bird is the third CD they have worked on together and follows Birdie (2018) and He and Me (2020), a duo recording of which Midwest Record said, “A real tour de force where the two talents give each other room to really shine and bring it all home in a velvet jewel box. Top shelf.”
Now we have the press release pack details out of the way, what about the music? The opening track lets you know that this is a vocalist with a difference. ‘Odd Bird Bop’ is a reference to Charlie Parker and her own name. The style is bop with warm toned vocals that fall somewhere between spoken and sung. ‘In The Shade’ is a bass and voice duet with a clear vocal delivery that allows the listener to focus on the lyrics. Track three picks up the tempo with bright flute playing from Scott Mayo. Very enjoyable interplay between flute, piano, and drums with the flute capturing the essence of the lyrics and the song’s title ‘Something Fast, Something Light’.
‘Ericolloquy’ is a tribute piece to Eric Dolphy, slightly moody and contemplative. Piano and flute again lead on the melody with strong accompaniment from Dan Lutz on bass. ‘Ashes, Ashes’ was written by Wolfe while driving down the California coast during the horrendous fires that ravaged much of the state and rained ashes into people’s backyards. Despite the subject material, captured eloquently by Wolfe this is not as downbeat a number as one might have thought it would be. The sax and piano playing on this track is imaginatively captivating with just the right level of support from drummer Peter Buck.
‘Lovers Leap’ is about taking a chance on love. This is a punchy number where the piano matches the style of the voice, it is only when the sax comes in does the tune become more lyrical. I enjoyed the way this number played out, great storytelling. In “The Wave,” Wolfe describes an actual event that happened to her when she was a child while swimming in the ocean. She almost drowned when a wave took her under, but she recounts the episode with evocative poetry over piano and sax lines that capture the movement of the sea so very well.
‘Samba Batucada’ is the track I chose to play on ‘Sounds Like Jazz’ because I liked the style, the lyrics and the delivery. The tune wears its Samba styling lightly but still put a smile on my face. ‘Did I Ever’ is a forlorn song about lost love, where it all went wrong and whether the love was ever really there in the first place. Doleful but beautifully delivered by Ada Bird Wolfe. ‘Ordinary Man’ is the most politically motivated tune on the album written, as it was, following the death of George Floyd. The lyrics are powerful and need to be heard!
‘Ocean, Mountain, River, Sky’, and the album’s final track, ‘Egg’, are reflections on nature and renewal. The vocal delivery remains that sung/spoken poetical style that permeates the release. The sax and piano on ‘Egg’ ground the music in the jazz idiom – much as they do throughout the album. Ada Bird Wolfe has a smoky, warm, performance art style alto voice. Although she tells stories that can be emotionally intense, she is never bombastic, rather, she invites you in with a conversational, intimate approach. A piano master with an extensive musical vocabulary and an endless font of ideas, Trotter is the perfect complement for Wolfe. With their deep relationship and strong musicianship from everyone involved, Odd Bird is an album of subtlety, of message with musical and emotional depth.
Musicians: Ada Bird Wolfe – vocals; Jamieson Trotter – piano; Dan Lutz – bass; Peter Buck – drums; Scott Mayo – saxophones, bass clarinet, flute.
Ada Bird Wolfe – melodies and lyrics
Jamieson Trotter – harmonies and arrangements
Tracklist: 1. Odd Bird Bop. 2. In The Shade. 3. Something Fast, Something Light. 4. Ericolloquy. 5. Ashes, Ashes. 6. Lover’s Leap. 7. The Wave. 8. Samba Batucada. 9. Did I Ever. 10. Ordinary Man. 11. Ocean, Mountain, River, Sky. 12. An Egg.