From the Whirlwind Record Label ‘Acrobats’ by vocalist Jo Lawry.

Australian vocalist Jo Lawry has forged an impressive solo career with a global fan base, while earning deep respect as a ‘musician’s singer’ within and beyond jazz circles. She’s also spent nearly a decade performing and recording with Sting and has worked with Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel. The genesis for the Acrobats project came about by Lawry setting herself a challenge:

“I thought, what is the hardest thing I could do? And the answer was a trio album: voice, bass and drums, where I’m trying to function like a horn player and we’re providing the whole landscape without the benefit of chords.”

Usually when I review an album I will listen through a number of times before writing about each of the tracks heard. The first listen through I tend to do while doing something else to see if a particular tune can catch my attention, on this occasion I stopped doing whatever it was I was doing and did not go back. Subsequent listenings just confirmed my initial response: Acrobats really is something different, something very good indeed.

Jo Lawry’s voice is clean, with a good vocal range and the most wonderful diction. Linda May Han-Ho plays some of the best conversational style bass lines I have heard on record. Allison Miller is equally conversational with her drumming whether she is playing with a delicate touch or with a more propulsive edge. The three musicians create ten different interpretations of, largely, well known standards in a way that I have not heard before.

The quality of Jo Lawry’s voice is apparent from the opening track but is how she uses that voice that makes this album standout. Jo scats with the best of them and moves from lyrics to scat, and back again, with ease – so much so that on more than one occasion it took a while to realize that she had done so. What I enjoyed more than anything is the way that Jo played with harmonic structure. This is best heard on Vernon Duke’s ‘Taking A Chance On Love’ where the central harmonic line is bent to such an extent that I was not sure what key Jo was singing in but at no time did she ever sound “off-key”.

In many ways, this is one of the most difficult album reviews that I have written and that is simply down to the fact that my use of the English language is insufficient to convey how I reacted to what I heard on this album. The vocals, in range, pitch, tone and timbre, are some of the best I have heard. The support from Han-Oh and Miller are a superb example of how to have a three way jazz conversation where everyone’s voice is heard clearly and blends beautifully. The structure of the album is well-balanced and even though, largely, made up of standards sounds fresh and refreshing.

Lawry reflects, “This is the most playful and adventurous that I’ve been in the studio, and that’s down to the alchemy of this particular combination of people.” The innate interconnectivity and trust between the members of this trio is palpable, much like a troupe of acrobats, and, as Lawry says, “you need to have people that you know are going to catch you.” Collaboration and agility are at the core of this bold new record from three highly esteemed musicians, led by the visionary Lawry who presents this unconventional and inspired addition to the vocal jazz canon and if Acrobats is not among the best releases of 2023 lists at the end of the year, then I can only suggest that an outbreak of collective deafness will have befallen the jazz community.

Acrobats is available from Bandcamp from 10th February, 2023 but can be pre-ordered now.

Musicians: Jo Lawry – vocals; Linda May Han-Oh – bass; Allison Miller – drums.

Tracklist: 1. Travelling Light. 2. Acrobats. 3. Taking a Chance on Love. 4. You’re the Top. 5. Deed I Do. 6. You’re The Voice. 7. Takes Two to Tango. 8. 317 East 32nd Street. 9 My Time of Day / I’ve Never Been in Love Before. 10. If I Were a Bell.

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