Listening to Emma Larsson, it's hard not to be reminded of the young Nancy Wilson. The Swedish-born, New York-based singer, now three albums into what promises to be an impressive career, mirrors Wilson's silken delivery and her sly interpretative sass. Yet beneath that elegant surface is a tiger ready to spring, a jazz-savvy adventuress worthy of Abbey Lincoln or Betty Carter. While her previous discs teamed her with a trio of top-drawer Nordic musicians alongside the dynamic Venezuelan pianist Benito Gonzalez, Sing to they Sky
significantly amps up her accompaniment with a tight, deeply simpatico quartet: saxophonist Kenneth Whalum III, pianist Shedrick Mitchell, bassist Eric Revis and drummer Billy Drummond.
Larsson continues her pattern of blending original compositions with a smattering of well-chosen covers. She is a superb songwriter. In the accompanying press material, she posits that the album "is about living life with all its ups and downs while keeping your faith through the rocky parts of the road"; hence the heartache of "Before the Rain Comes," tracing a freshly unraveled relationship, and "Many Moons Ago," recalling a long-faded romance, offset by the urgent uncertainty of "In a Quandary," the renewed hope of "Watch My Garden Grow" and the beseeching "I Sing to the Sky." Two covers and one co-composition are as panoptic, spanning "Here's to Life," Sade's "No Ordinary Love" and the doleful "I Stay Awake," written with fellow Swede Aron Hidman.