CD Review: Dolores Scozzesi – A Special Taste

17 Sep

The blues are just torch-songs: Dolores Scozzesi in performance

Dolores Scozzesi: there's nothing like discovering a new voice

There is one good thing about returning from holiday: a healthy pile of CDs for review has accumulated during the summer, promising plenty of interest to lighten the darkening autumn evenings. An even better thing is when you pick one, randomly, from the pile, put it on and out of nowhere, a new voice stops you in your tracks.

After all these years of listening, and not to sound too blasé about it, the “Wow” factor needs to be pretty strong to have that kind of effect. And it really has to be something different. So thank you, Dolores Scozzesi, for working a little magic as the last dregs of summer evaporate.

A Special Taste appears to be New York-born Scozzesi’s first album – and it’s long overdue, given her credentials: Lee Strasberg Institute alumna, one-time voice student of Phil Moore, improv specialist who has performed alongside Robin Williams and Jay Leno, former ex-pat resident of Lyon who has toured Europe with her own jazz troupe, and singular cabaret performer who has ripped up Sondheim and Sting to great acclaim on the West Coast.

It’s the voice that grabs you to begin with. A rich contralto with edge, snapping from molten serenity to a predatory growl in a single phrase, and a timbre that makes you want to place your hands on the speakers just so you can capture something of its individuality. She switches easily between the ominous (“Stay Out of the Moonlight” is a glorious don’t-do-as-I-did word to the wise) and the edgy. “Jazz is a Special Taste” is a stop/start exploration of the allure of the genre to which Scozzesi has loosely hitched her star.

I say ‘loosely’ only because throughout the album, she seems to be daring the listener to put her in a specific box. The phrasing sounds so spontaneous that I doubt any two live performances of a song are ever exactly the same, in the great tradition of artists like Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. And as with those greats, the story telling is commanding. You have no choice but to listen. The arrangements by Eli Brueggemann and Gary Fukishima give her the ideal springboard to create these vivid word pictures.

Then there is the choice of songs. Standards from Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh (it’s a long time since I heard anyone treat “You Fascinate Me So” with such dry wit) and Fred Ahler and Joe Young (“I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”) have strange but fascinating bedfellows in a pair of Bob Dylan numbers, an astringent take on “One More Cup of Coffee” and a moving, bossa nova treatment of “Just Like a Woman”.

I don’t know what the Dylan purists will have to say about that, but as a late comer to the Dylan lyrics appreciation society myself (I’m no lover of his voice, and that’s been something of a barrier to enjoying his work), I’m fascinated by the endless reinvention that he attracts these day, particularly from female vocalists. Long may it continue.

Scozzesi’s liner notes shed significant light on the final number on the disk, an acoustic treatment of “Autumn Leaves”, melding Johnny Mercer’s English lyrics with the original French words of Jacques Prevert and culminating in a self-penned vocalese tribute to her late husband, dark, raw and touching. This is an album to be enjoyed in discerning company, with firelight and good wine.

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