Here's a singer from Sweden who released two albums in Europe before she left the continent and settled in New York in 2011. "Sing To The Sky" is Emma Larsson's first record in the US and features seven originals plus two covers. Her voice is wonderfully pure and her intonation and timing just perfect. But it is also her ability to write innovative, original and interesting songs that make this album a great trip.
Pianist Shedrick Mitchell accompanies her (and also co-produced) alongside great bassist Eric Revis and equally brilliant Billy Drummond on drums. Kenneth Whalum III is featured on saxophone on the blurrily meandering "Before The Rain Comes", a song that really captures the thick and sultry atmosphere before the storm arrives. A real gem. And her opener "Many Moons Ago" also features very sympathetic phrasing with nice twists and curves.
She cites Betty Carter and Maya Angelou among her influences, but has clearly found her own voice and niche. The blithely lyrics on the enthusiastic "Watch My Garden Grow" are underscored by fervent playing from Shedrick, who has played for Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack, Maxwell and Kenny Garrett, among numerous others, and a mesmerizing vocal arrangement that is really unique. One of the highlights.
Emma's "Here's To Life" becomes a reckoningly fatalistic statement and goes a totally different route than the heartbreaking Shirley Horn version. And it works amazingly well. There are great swingers, too, like "In A Quandary" where the rhythm section just flies. But that's no wonder; Eric has played with Branford Marsalis for almost two decades and Billy played with Sheila Jordan, George Cables, or Bobby Hutcherson. And Emma is an effortless part of the band.
Her wordless "Consolation" is just that - a warm embrace with a sweet and gentle touch. Her soulful title track "I Sing To The Sky (When My Soul Cries)" is lavishly interpreted and her cover of Sade's "No Ordinary Love" shows her sensuous, almost erotic side as well. Her singing on this one is svelte and dirty at the same time, enhanced by Shedrick's cool arrangement and Kenneth's stylish sax (he's Kirk Whalum's son - it's all in the family). Just listen to her understated appetite when she sings "...with your sweet smile".
"The world before my eyes turns quiet now" are Emma's first words on the album's closer "I Stay Awake", another fine example for her uncompromising and daring approach. Touching.
Emma has a steady gig at Manhattan's Lime Leaf on West 72nd Street each Thursday. I think I'm going to check her out soon.