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Review: Radha Thomas’ Pensive New Record ‘Vocalese’

The Bengaluru-based jazz vocalist pays tribute to the sensitive and introspective jazz musician Chet Baker

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Sunil Sampat Feb 19, 2020

'Vocalese' artwork by Reynold Philip/John Isaac.

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★ ★ ★ ★ ½

Bengaluru jazz vocalist Radha Thomas’ new record Vocalese — out via Subcontinental Records — comprises of four tunes and features fine accompaniment. This is a remarkable album for several reasons. For starters, it is the first attempt by an Indian jazz singer at vocalese, the subtle art of putting lyrics into a jazz instrumental solo, treating the original solo as a composed tune. It is a difficult art form and has not been attempted too often by musicians anywhere in the world. Thomas has written all the lyrics for this album and says it took her almost four years to get into the spirit of the music and create lyrics consistent with that feeling from late America jazz trumpet player and vocalist Chet Baker.

For another, no vocalist from India has dedicated an album to Chet Baker, whose sound is unique in jazz. This album deserves worldwide exposure; this music is universal and will be appreciated by the international jazz community.

Thomas gets into the soul of Baker’s expression and our regret is that she recorded not more than four songs on the album. The four tunes are “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” “You Go To My Head,” “It Could Happen To You” and “Autumn Leaves.” All standards familiar to jazz listeners but with Baker’s treatment, further interpreted by Thomas in words and spirit.

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The accompanying musicians are Ron McClure on piano, Vito Lesczak on drums and Sri Viswanath on bass. The album was recorded in New York in June 2019. The singing on the album would meet with approval from Baker, as it captures the soul of his sound. The rhythm section supplements Thomas brilliantly. This is a landmark piece of work.

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