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Under The Moon by Barbara Sfraga

Under The Moon, the new album from vocalist Barbara Sfraga, is a stunning portrait of an amazing talent. This is only her second release as a leader, but it clearly shows that she deserves the kind of respect normally reserved for only the most accomplished jazz singers.

Sfraga has a voice that binds itself to a song and that has the ability to take the listener to places strange and unknown. A master at rhythmic displacement, she manipulates time at will, constructing and deconstructing tunes in the most natural sense imaginable. Her voice has an earthy quality about it, with an occasional twang somewhat reminiscent of a Norah Jones. But as comparisons go, I think it’s difficult to avoid mention of Diana Krall. They share a similar tonal reference, but Sfraga brings much more emotion and vulnerability to her expression. She has a way of dancing around the melody and of attacking and releasing notes that creates a style that is uniquely her own.

Backed by a top-notch band consisting of John McLean on guitar, Paul Wertico on drums, Christopher Dean Sullivan on bass and Kevin Partick on percussion, Sfraga thrills with dazzling arrangements of some jazz standards that would seem old and dusty in less competent hands. On some tunes, she’s changed the time signature, for example playing "I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face" in 5/4 time and the Ellington gem "Sophisticated Lady" in 3/4. On other tunes she’s changed the tempo. "You’ve Changed", normally played as a ballad, is given new life when played as an uptempo samba. "Mood Indigo", another Ellington favorite, is slowed down with great effect to an almost drowsy tempo that really helps bring the point of the lyrics home.

Of the ten tunes on this album, seven are jazz standards, with one original (written by Sfraga) and two non-jazz covers - "Under the Moon and Over the Sky" by Angela Bofill and "Every Grain of Sand" by Bob Dylan. "Under the Moon and Over the Sky" was originally an R&B tune that takes to the jazz adaptation quite well. The arrangement is hip and exotic, with Sfraga overdubbing animal-like screeches and birdcalls in the background.

However, the Sfraga original "Never Walk Away" and Dylan’s "Every Grain of Sand" feel foreign and out of place in this collection. "Never Walk Away", sporting a New Orleans-like jazz rhythm, never really goes anywhere and "Every Grain of Sand" doesn’t have enough structure to really bring it to life.

But in spite of those observations, this is overall a wonderful album from an exciting new artist that I hope will be blessing us with new works for many years to come.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Barbara Sfraga
  • CD Title: Under The Moon
  • Genre: Jazz Vocals
  • Year Released: 2003
  • Record Label: A440 Music Group
  • Rating: Five Stars
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