AUG 14, 2018, 7:30 PM
Lan Su Chinese Garden
239 NW Everett St
Portland, OR 97209
Sarah McKenzie – Jazz in the Garden
After enchanting jazz fans with her 2015 Impulse! Records debut, We Could Be Lovers, Sarah McKenzie returns with the sensational follow-up, Paris in the Rain. Like before, the 28-year-old, Melbourne, Australia-born singer, pianist, composer and arranger teams with the acclaimed Brian Bacchus – who has produced classics for such stars as Norah Jones, Lizz Wright, and Gregory Porter – to deliver a gripping program of jazz classics and originals – all of which present McKenzie’s incredible musicality in glamorous glory.
McKenzie moved to Paris last year after graduating from Boston’s Berklee College of Music. The album’s snazzy title track is her love letter to the City of Light. The fanciful lyrics find her alternating effortlessly between French and English as she rejoices in the city’s opulent offerings. “I’m really in love with Paris. It’s a really amazing city. It’s so beautiful with so much to offer in terms of culture, food and style. I wanted to write a song that captures all of Paris’ beauty, magic and spirit.”
Overall, the album’s theme centers on McKenzie’s journey from Australia to America and her trips throughout Europe as a performing artist. She exemplifies the loose theme with the telling choices of songs such as Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s “When in Rome,” (her visit to Italy) Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Triste” (for her time in Portugal),” Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar’s “Tea for Two” (for London).” The travelogue theme rings the loudest on album’s closer, “Road Chops,” an ebullient original that evokes the brisling giddiness of exploring the globe; the instrumental also showcases McKenzie command at the piano.
McKenzie praises Paris in the Rain as a more “stylish” album. “It shows greater depth of my arrangements,” she says before explaining that she’s fashioning her own vision within the jazz tradition. For this album, that meant exploring more textures with which she does gorgeously by expanding the sonic palette. The album boasts a superlative lineup that includes vibraphonist Warren Wolf (who played on We Could Be Lovers), guitarist Mark Whitfield, bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Gregory Hutchinson, trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, flutist Jamie Baum, alto saxophonist Scott Robinson, tenor saxophonist Ralph Moore, and guitarist Romero Lubambo.
Sophisticated originals steeped in the Great American Songbook tradition energize much of Paris in the Rain. In addition to the title track and “Road Chops,” she penned three other superb originals. The bluesy “One Jealous Moon” demonstrates her meticulous word play as she sublimely uses the numbers: 1,2,3,4 throughout in the song’s poetic lyrics; the song also features a stellar tenor saxophone solo from Moore.
McKenzie’s haunting ballad “Don’t Be a Fool” conveys a melancholic allure as she slowly sings of treacherous romance and seduction; Warren Wolf’s striking vibraphone chords in unison with the piano accentuate the composition’s suspense. Later in the song, he delivers a rueful solo.
With “Onward and Upward,” McKenzie pays tribute to Nat King Cole with a spry original teeming with optimistic lyrics about embarking on new adventures; she also tickles a spiffy blues-laden piano solo while Baum and Farinacci too yield effervescent asides.