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Janice Borla Group "Promises to Burn" Featuring Janice Borla-voice Scott Robinson -tenor saxophone/flute Art Davis-trumpet/flugelhorn John McLean-guitars Bob Bowman-bass Jack Mouse-drums Janice Borla Group "Promises to Burn"
(Published: March 26, 2014)

Janice Borla Group
"Promises to Burn" Featuring:
Janice Borla-voice
Scott Robinson -tenor saxophone/flute
Art Davis-trumpet/flugelhorn
John McLean-guitars
Bob Bowman-bass
Jack Mouse-drums

There is often a certain element of debate as to what makes someone a jazz singer. But in the case of the outstanding vocalist Janice Borla that debate will never take place. From the opening bars of her remarkable new album Promises to Burn on Tall Grass Records, there is no doubt that this is jazz at its purest.

Eschewing the vocalist with accompaniment approach for that of a fully integrated instrumental ensemble, Janice takes on eight challenging compositions, many of which would be unexpected material for a vocalist. To accomplish this successfully, a clear vision of structure is demanded, and Janice's formidable arranging artistry is fully up to the task.

Composers like Lennie Tristano, Jack DeJohnette, Bob Mintzer and Bill Evans are generally not names that show up on vocalists' albums, but they're all represented here alongside Leonard Bernstein, Tadd Dameron and Joey Calderazzo. Janice has also assembled an exceptional ensemble of musicians for the project, all of whom play in the conversational style that is ideal for telling the stories that are told in this extraordinary album. The rapport of all of the musicians is exemplary. Art Davis on trumpet and flugelhorn, bassist Bob Bowman and Janice's husband and drummer Jack Mouse have all performed on Janice's three previous albums. Guitarist John McLean was on one, and Scott Robinson on tenor sax and flute is recording with Janice for the first time here. The arrangements provide a broad palette of textures and contexts for interaction - harmonized, contrapuntal and improvisational, and with plenty of room for blowing.

Janice's beautiful, rounded voice and flawless intonation is often in scat mode here, with her wordless lyrics shaped to sound more like a horn. And like an instrumentalist, when she sings written lyrics, she does so in a manner that states the melodic line to create the framework from which the solo will emerge.

Two beautiful ballads are an exception to this approach, and are offered in a more straightforward and traditional manner. Bernstein's Some Other Time - with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green - is given a most tender treatment, dreamlike and serene. Janice's lovely understated vocal and a delicate, genteel tenor solo by Robinson slips into a freewheeling guitar/vocal/sax improv with a rubato feel before a lyrical bass solo leads into the closing theme of this enchanting piece. Tadd Dameron's If You Could See Me Now was composed for Sarah Vaughan and aptly demonstrates its composer's "above all, it must be beautiful" approach.

With just guitar and bass Janice gives Carl Sigman's poignant lyrics a most sensitive portrayal expressing the essence of the piece in spare, undiluted form.

Another classic ballad receives a most imaginative transformation. Don Raye and Gene DePaul's You Don't Know What Love Is - a song performed by countless jazz vocalists and instrumentalists of all styles - receives a delectable samba-ish treatment here with scintillating interplay between voice and guitar. Soulful tenor, luminous scatting and lyrical bass solos lead into a closing where the samba feel is embraced and then released as the piece is taken to a powerful emotional climax.

Easy swing - so confident that it almost swaggers - is the mode for Joey Calderazzo's Midnight Voyage. Janice gives Christine Helferich's lyrics a sinuously simmering treatment with strut-walking bass and horns that sound like a vocal chorus. A mellifluous Art Famer-invoking flugelhorn solo, soul-tinged guitar and a delicious scat solo add to the captivating texture.

An evocative, highly atmospheric mood permeates Jack DeJohnette's Silver Hollow. A paean to the sound of Jack's longtime label ECM Records, the melody is nicely layered with euphonious flute and flugelhorn voicings and infectious call and response with Janice. Warmly embracing flugelhorn, full-bodied flute, a radiant flute/vocal duo and stirring guitar, all contribute mightily to the evolution of this piece's richly expressed narrative.

Bill Evans' Funkallero opens the album on a jaunty note with a wordless, playful bass/voice unison in bouncy syncopation before Janice sings Karen Gallinger's wry lyrics. Bowman's nicely suspended woodiness and Mouse's brilliant brushwork provides a Latin-ish feel under the guitar, tenor and harmon-muted trumpet solos before a delicious scat/drums duet takes the piece into the closing voice/bass unison theme.

Two scorchers complete this delightful album. Bob Mintzer's RunFerYerLife is a smoker with a staccato, heavily syncopated unison theme. Vivid guitar comping and sprightly walking bass set the framework for a rollicking scat excursion, a highly articulate trumpet solo and an exciting turn on tenor, leading into an ensemble riff-peppered dynamically-charged drum solo by Mouse - whose playing throughout the album is absolutely perfect.

The legendary Lennie Tristano's Lennie's Pennies is given a stunning treatment. His own take on Pennies From Heaven is offered with rapid-fire boppish vocal/guitar unison and closes out with spectacular three-part harmony on the challenging theme. In between, supported by a deeply-wooded bass line in a briskly complex walk, is a dancing brightly-grooved scat solo, nimble guitar and a fluidly lyrical tenor solo that would make Warne Marsh smile.

Consummate musicianship, astonishing interplay, and a sense of joyfully unfettered creativity that permeates this entire album make Promises to Burn a truly uplifting experience.

Upcoming performances
April 4 "An Evening with Vocalist Janice Borla"
with Art Davis (trumpet/flugelhorn), John McLean (guitars), Jim Cox (bass) and Jack Mouse (drums)
featuring selections from her new CD Promises to Burn

Madden Theatre
Wentz Fine Arts Center
North Central College
Naperville, IL

Aug 11-16 Janice Borla Vocal Jazz Camp & Concert Series with Madeline Eastman & Kate McGarry (vocalists); also Art Davis (trumpet), Brad Stirtz (vibes), Dan Haerle (piano), Bob Bowman (bass) and Jack Mouse (drums)

Birch Creek Music Performance Center
Egg Harbor, WI

More Information: http://janiceborla.com

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