If you’re a guy like me, there’s always something fresh and anticipatory about a debut CD by a female jazz vocalist, a romantic kind of excitement that makes you anxious to be carried away.
Liz Briones does the carrying away on much of "Liz Briones," produced by her Kiss My Jazz Entertainment LLC. "Liz Briones," recorded, mixed and mastered by pianist and session leader Wayne Wilentz, was finished in late 2003, and then released in mid-2004. Potential is the word here for Briones, a native of Ecuador who grew up in Washington, D.C. She’s not there yet - as far as being able to carry you away on every tune -- but she could become a cross cultural star in her own right, with impressive readings of "Embraceable You," "West Coast Blues," and the Latin rocker, "Besame Mucho," among others.
A blues and R&B maven in many of her gigs around D.C., one hears, however, that it’s more jazz - and her own Latin blend of blues and jazz -- that may be her path to fame and fortune. While gutsy enough to get down for a decent rendition of Aretha Franklin’s warhorse "Chain of Fools," it’s her talent for making you feel her reach into the many moods of your own emotions that makes her special, for instance, on "Embraceable You." And it’s her playful entreaties on "Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby/Hit the Road Jack," and her lilting caresses on "Sabor A Mi" that set her apart from your run of the mill lounge crooner or blues belter.
Check out "Round Midnight."
Here Briones turns the Thelonious Monk standard into a sparkling gem, featuring her suggestive peaks and valleys and some now spicy, now dreamy laments. All the while pianist Wilentz spurs his band through a snappy romp - yes, "Round Midnight" a romp, and it works. "West Coast Blues" especially glistens with Briones making it a perfect vehicle for her bluesy, jazzy improvisation.
On the other hand, "You Don’t Know What Love Is" seems a missed opportunity - it becomes a flat, bluesy song, and lacks the many hues of her plaintive cries heard so entertainingly elsewhere. Really bringing it on every phrase can put Briones over the top.
She is supported ably on her debut CD. Wilentz, a native New Yorker who has R&B roots - he’s performed with the Shirelles and Marvelettes among others - found a niche for himself upon moving to the D.C. area by specializing in a blend of Brazilian and American jazz since the late 1980’s. Behind Briones he displays his trademark light touch of lyrical charm and Latino spice on piano, and is complemented well by sidemen like bassist Wardell Howell, guitarist Dave Cosby and saxophonist Bruce Swaim.
Briones says she likes all the musical genres - her idols growing up ranged from Aretha and Etta James to Nancy Wilson and Minnie Ripperton, but she says her influences also come from Dianne Reeves, Marc Anthony, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Willie Colon and others. She admits she will "blur the line often between genres," but that her "underlying music" will always be jazz.
"Liz Briones" scratches the surface of what could be a star turn about to happen. A little more letting go, a little more full-bodied confidence in the multi-shaded power of her own voice, and she’ll be on her way.