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Sfraga Sfings!

As anyone who’s familiar w/ my review/rants, most jazz singers aren’t among my favorite things. Too many are either stuck in a Great American Songbook/confusing-masochism-with-love time warp, or they are "instrumentalists" who display (way too) much (numbing) technique but seem not to care one whit for the lyrics/content of the song. NYC-based singer Barbara Sfraga is a most notable exception an "exception" in almost all senses of the word. On a humid late-summer Tuesday night, Ms. Sfraga held sway in the cozily small Lower East Side no-cover jazz bar Detour, as she charted as a daring middle ground between the polar opposites of jazz singing. She was a "stylist," bringing interpretive, very personal statements on standards like "Mood Indigo" and tunes by Angela Bofill and Bob Dylan; at the same time, she was a "musician," interacting with her band, taking the words up into sounds as a horn player might, but never in a manner that suggests she’s using the material as a "vehicle" for scatland shoo-oop-bee-doo improvisation or that she’s "above" the material. She de- and re-constructed the songs the same way Coltrane remade "My Favorite Things" and, thankfully, without a trace of post-modern/heavy-handed irony. Sfraga is the kind of singer rare in almost any genre that can make a song her own, in the sense that well, put it this way: when she did the Dylan tune ("Grain of Sand"), Mr. Zim’s style & delivery were the furthest thing from my mind. Not to slight her band: John Hart, guitar; Chris Sullivan, bass; Mike Thompson, drums. Hart was both unassuming and riveting: superb tasteful accompaniment, yes, but he was unafraid to up the ante by tossing the cliché notion of "tastefulness" out the door and cranking up the volume and audaciously bending notes in a rock/blues manner. Sullivan plays not just the upright bass strings but the bass itself, throwing himself into the performance not to draw the spotlight, but to impart a palpable joie de vive to go with his rhythmic, rippling (think Charlie Haden, somewhat) bass tones. Thompson kept that swing thing going in such an unassuming manner one could forget he’s there (almost) damn, he just made it look so easy. Incidentally, these hepcats - Ms. S's regular crew - play extremely well as a unit, a BAND, as opposed to a bunch o' players thrown together. To date Ms. Sfraga has one disc on the Naxos label’s jazz series, and for those not living in the NYC vicinity, it is a groovy showcase/sampler of what she does in live performance.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Barbara Sfraga Band
  • Concert Date: 8/27/2002
  • Subtitle: Barbara Sfraga: Live in What's Left of the Apple
  • Venue: Detour [13th St. @ 1st Ave.]
  • City State Country: New York City
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