JWQ Showcase 2017

Thursday, December 3, 2015

USA: Ira Hill-Tomorrow(2015)





Even as the title of Tomorrow—the debut album from Phoenix, Arizona’s Ira Hill—hints at a bright future for the 19-year-old jazz vocalist, it pays its dues to the past by means of an attentive and eclectic set list. In spite, if not also because, of Ira’s gloriously extroverted vocalese, the album comes across as a vividly personal journey. Over peaks and valleys of upbeat swing and finely brushed balladry, and bolstered by the simpatico thermals of his studio band, he spreads wings that shine all the more iridescently for having gotten this far.The album’s core trio of pianist John Proulx, bassist Kevin Axt, and drummer Dave Tull gives Ira all the space both he and his listeners need to luxuriate in the breadth of his sound. With the trio alone, he turns evergreens like “My Funny Valentine” and “Tomorrow's Another Day” even greener. Like an unclouded diamond cradled in supporting arms, Ira defines every refraction of light by bringing out every color of the spectrum.But it’s really in “Afro Blue,” the album’s slick opener, that one gets the immediacy of his feel for groove and atmosphere. Integrated seamlessly into the trio, along with vibraphonist Craig Fundyga, percussionist Alex Acuna, and reedman Doug Webb, Ira buffs every edge until it fits flush with the next. His sound here is mellifluous and confident, seeming to slide through the words, burnished as they are by time. This is one among a handful of virtuosic numbers, including an uplifting “Billie’s Bounce,” the scintillating staccato of “Cloudburst” (in which he
duets with The Manhattan Transfer’s Cheryl Bentyne, who also produces), a swinging “I’ll Remember April,” and bright “You’ve Proven Your Point,” which ends the album on a Latin vibe, paying tribute to Ira’s childhood, spent partly south of the border. In all of these, one encounters Ira’s gifts for rhythm and tonal color in spades.Ira dials a few shades darker in the album’s ballads and reveries. Of these, the Italian “Estate” is a standout, and features the classical guitar of Ramon Stagnaro in an overt nod to João Gilberto, the song’s best-known interpreter. It shows Ira’s depth of range and reveals a more relaxing side to his art. To boot, Bentyne ramps up the atmospheric beauty as she brushes her lavender into Ira’s ember sunset, as she does also in a forward-looking arrangement of “Moody’s Mood For Love.” Ira brings a sense of urgency to this complex song, capturing the whirlwind of thoughts that overtakes the quintessential prisoner of love. Yet the album’s most enchanting reverie comes in the form of Pat Metheny’s “Minuano,” to which vocalist Kurt Elling added original lyrics, and which in this context snakes its way through a pastel blend.At every turn of Tomorrow, one can count on a rich, emotional directness in Ira’s singing. We hear him smiling and, at one point, even laughing, as if the joy of his gifts were too much to contain. Where some sing for fun, and that he certainly does, Ira is above all a musicians’ singer, and as such reminds us that sometimes the human heart is the most fulfilling instrument of all to
play.