Jazz vocalist Greta Matassa makes a big statement in an understated way with her latest release Favorites From a Long Walk, a sterling collection of songs performed masterfully by the singer and her quintet for this mainstream jazz CD.
Matassa is a stylist who has serious chops, her voice is full-bodied and texturally stimulating. Her phrasing and delivery are conversational and relaxed, but are backed by a veritable steam engine of power, technical mastery, and a deep grasp of the idiom. Yet she doesn’t rely on any of it, for she is a natural-born singer and music pours from her as pure and vitalizing as a mountain stream. Her musical scope is broad, as evidenced in her nods of recognition in her playful quotes and tributes, and her integration of pop, R&B and soul into the mix of feels and styles. In fact it’s what inspired this recording, for the artist chose the material for Favorites From a Long Walk from compilation tapes she made to accompany her outings.
Supported expertly by her longtime quintet, Greta records and performs with Darin Clendinin (piano), Clipper Anderson (bass), Mark Ivester (drums), Richard Cole (saxophone), and Thomas Marriott (trumpet), the result is tight, swinging, lyrical music that is a true joy to listen to.
From the first bar of the first cut, Jobim’s "Double Rainbow," it was evident that this recording was a cut above. Matassa’s copper hued voice articulately delivers the lyric and dances through the melody, the tempo bright and buoyant for this rarely vocally recorded work. Blossom Dearie’s "Inside a Silent Tear" is a fine example of Matassa’s utter control as she delivers this delicate ballad in a crystalline performance, her presence is tangible, her emotion bared. "I Will Wait For You," the Michel Legrand classic, features voice/bass for the first half, with the band joining in on the bridge to lay down a fat swing, driving Matassa’s tribute to Nancy Wilson.
"Late, Late Show" bolts out of the gate at a fiery tempo, and the artist sings the heart of Sarah and the soul of Ella, taking a scat solo and trading fours with drummer Ivester in a stunning vocal performance. Kurt Weill’s "Speak Low" is a superb arrangement of this rich ballad, beginning with pianist Clendenin’s solo intro moving into a divergence of feels, with tastes of tango, Latin and funk stirred into the mix. Matassa’s phrasing evokes the delicious agony of waiting in anticipation, capturing the longing essence of the poetic lyric. She moves effortlessly through the arrangement and covers a lot of territory, from a modern sound (slightly reminiscent of Jay Clayton) to head-on soul for the vamp ending. There isn’t a bad track among the thirteen offered, each and every one is notable in its own right, and promises great vocal jazz. Of mention is the fine production quality of this recording, with its intimacy and ‘live’ feel adding the final touch.
Worldly, gentle, bold, dynamic, Favorites From a Long Walk is a gift for the heart. Greta Matassa is one of America’s finest singers, and stands firmly among the best in today’s jazz.