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Presence by Lisa Sokolov

You don’t just listen to Lisa Sokolov. You experience her.

The New York-based vocalist and pianist stretches far beyond traditional jazz with her drama-filled singing that crosses into performance art.

Likened to Betty Carter for the risks she takes, Sokolov is one of the most original and daring artists in music.

On "Presence," her third release, she throws herself into every word and note. She is all sharp edges and open flesh.

"This music is not meant to be an easy background listen," Sokolov writes in the liner notes. "It calls for your active listening. I call for your collaboration."

It’s more like she demands it. Sokolov makes people, both fans and detractors, sit up and pay attention. She is mesmerizing. The CD opens with the title track, which features multiple vocals of Sokolov. She surrounds the listener in an avalanche of the human voice.

From there, she goes into William Parker’s "Hopefully." Performing a cappella, Sokolov bites into every word as if it were a rare, exotic food. She spits out some words, others roll around on her tongue. On the line "Hopefully something good," the word "good" comes out as a guttural growl.

The next track is the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning." Sokolov gives it lovely, introspective rendering with her flexible voice stretching the song into new territory.

She then shows off her scatting skills on Cole Porter’s "You Do Something To Me," a number she performs with bassist Cameron Brown.

On "Chain of Fools," she adopts a blues persona, singing the song with a raw intensity that is softened by a Janis Joplin-like quiver in her voice. Another cover that Sokolov tackles is Laura Nyro’s "And When I Die." Again, she brings a fierceness to the music as she shifts tempos and tones, her voice changing from soft and smooth to loud and brash. It’s an album highlight.

At the other end, Sokolov’s own "Hard Being Human" is a part chant, part song, part noise. It’s a tough listen.

Still, the dozen songs on "Presence," whether they are originals or covers, are boldly unique. The songs on the CD are conceived as a single piece.

Sokolov’s music isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Those who get what she’s doing, however, are going to love her. She can be extreme and audacious, but she's also captivating and touching.

For adventurous listeners, "Presence" is highly recommended.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Lisa Sokolov
  • CD Title: Presence
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Laughing Horse Records
  • Tracks: Presence, Hopefully, Oh What A Beautiful Morning, You Do Something For Me, Chain Of Fools, Hard Being Human, Sons Of, Water Lilies, And When I Die, As It Is, For All We Know, Home On The Range
  • Musicians: Lisa Sokolov, vocals, piano; John DiMartino, piano; Cameron Brown, bass; Gerry Hemingway, drums
  • Rating: Four Stars
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