With Patchwork, the new CD by Dheepa Chari, the outstanding New York City-based vocalist has taken a giant step into the forefront of contemporary jazz singers. The influences of her personal inspirations are all fully displayed in her singing – the dulcet sultriness of Sarah Vaughan, the impeccable phrasing and effortless control of Ella Fitzgerald, and the emotional depth and sinuous lyricism of Billie Holiday. But the musical depth and creativity on this remarkable album also call to mind another icon of jazz vocalizing – the unparalleled Betty Carter. Like Betty, Dheepa is a band leader, not simply a vocalist with ensemble support. The musicians create a vivid synergy, weaving a rich tapestry of inspired creative interplay that takes the listener on a fascinating journey with each song. These are not theme-in/development/theme-out excursions, but rather full throttle adventures that conclude in a place far different from the departure point.
Each of the ten pieces on the album is developed entirely on its own terms, embracing various elements of the jazz vocal tradition without ever falling into categorization or succumbing to the expected. Much of this can be credited to the extraordinary arrangements of Dheepa’s brilliant collaborator and pianist/keyboardist Lars Potteiger, who also co-composed three of the songs with Dheepa. Each arrangement is lovingly crafted to not only provide the perfect setting for the jewel that is Dheepa’s beautiful voice, but also to allow her to paint each song’s story on its own emotional canvas. The exemplary skills of producer Aaron Nevezie capture every nuance of this marvelous recording.
To deliver music of this substance, the musicianship must be at the highest level, and the musicians on Patchwork are flawless in execution and consummate in artistry. Joining Lars in the rhythm section are Dan Asher on both electric and upright bass, and Vin Scialla on drums and percussion. Together they provide the pulsing fire, sensitive rapport and dynamic flow as demanded by the expressive context of each piece. Violinist Daniil Davydoff and Mike DiRubbo on alto and soprano saxophones are added on a number of pieces. Daniil provides a shimmering, hypnotic radiance sometimes in obbligato and others in harmony, woven delightfully into the arrangements; while Mike’s vigorous, inventive solos and background textures vitally enhance each piece on which he’s featured. Most of the solo space goes to Lars – always imaginative, adventurous and fully integrated into the music without a wasted note or a flash of virtuosity for its own sake.
Of course, the core of the music is Dheepa’s luminous artistry and superb voice – warm, emotionally expressive, full-bodied throughout her extensive range, deeply soulful and richly compelling. The essence of all vocal artistry is to tell a story beyond the lyrics, not just through one’s personal sound and style, but by conveying the essence of the soul within the structure of the musical environment. Dheepa has mastered that thoroughly.
The repertoire is delightful – an excellent balance of originals, Great American Songbook classics and rock pieces. The Chari/Potteiger originals include the album’s opener Semblance of Truth, a dramatic, moving, anthem-like piece built on emphatic piano chords and colored by violin; the adventurous Questions with a powerfully driving piano solo and buoyant vocal; and the title track Patchwork atmospherically blossoming from its rubato opening, incubated by violin and featuring alto and soprano solos in a context that has an early electric Miles feel.
The standards are fully re-imagined and completely refreshing in their approaches. Cole Porter’s Love for Sale is vibrantly up-tempo, spurred by horns and with Dheepaalternating long languorous tones and rapid fire phrases. Kern& Mercer’s beautiful I’m Old Fashioned is an unexpectedly bouncy jaunt that closes in a delicious soprano sax/vocal pas de deux. Woody Herman’s 1949 hit Early Autumn features Dheepa dancing briskly over the effervescently percussive rhythm section; and Fats Waller’s iconic Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a highly original and modernized version, embellished by violin and with Dheepa’s rhythmic thrust fluctuating boldly.
Dheepa also transforms a trio of popular rock songs and makes them her own. Again and Again – by British rockers Keane – uses very subtle and tasteful vocal overdubs to enhance the lovely melodic delivery over dramatically rhythmic chords. The French rock band Phoenix’s Lasso features Dheepa coiling sinuously around the rhythm section with exceptional percussive flavorings and mesmerizing synthesizer textures. A highly atmospheric, rubato, deeply moving take on Counting Crows’ Black and Blue closes out this captivating album on a most poignant note.
Following up on her excellent previous releases, 4th Street (EP) and Some New Fashion, Patchwork is a triumph.