The soul of vocal artistry is to distill the essence of a song and make it personal, finding something unexpected yet exactly right. The outstanding jazz vocalist Halie Loren does just that, as her latest Justin Time Records release, Simply Love, vividly demonstrates.
Released last June in Asia, Simply Love spent two weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard (Japan) jazz albums chart and landed five tracks on the jazz singles chart at iTunes Japan. Her Japanese tour in July culminated in six sold-out shows at the famed Cotton Club in Tokyo. Closer to home, recent appearances at Upstairs Jazz Bar in Montreal, Birdland in New York, Yoshi's jazz club in San Francisco and Seattle's historic Jazz Alley have cemented the Eugene, Oregon-based artist's growing status as a breakthrough, emerging artist in North America.
There is an intimacy in her voice that makes listeners feel she is singing directly to them. Now, with three sparkling new originals and 10 radiantly re-imagined classics, Loren accomplishes what every singer strives for - to make every song, regardless of who wrote it or performed it previously, entirely her own.
Key to her popularity is the central quartet, the members of which have appeared with Loren on every Justin Time Records release since 2008's They Oughta Write a Song: pianist/arranger Matt Treder, bassist Mark "Mo" Schneider, and percussionist Brian West. As on last year's Heart First, winner of Jazz Critique magazine's award for best vocal jazz album, they are again energized by the band's newest addition, guitarist William Seiji Marsh, and sterling support from accordionist Sergei Teleshev.
Sonically, Simply Love achieves a new level of technical sophistication, enhancing her trademark melodic inventiveness and lyrical sensitivity. Over 13 tracks, she interweaves themes of sun and sand, earth and sky, wistful dreams and happy endings, each successive song adding a layer of perspective to the earlier ones.
"With Simply Love, I wanted to meet the mood of the season," the Eugene, Oregon-based singer says. "What kind of soundtrack would I want to listen to in the warmer months?"
With her late friend and frequent co-writer Larry Wayne Clark, Loren has produced exquisitely crafted songs before, including two that became album titles for her. Still, "Cuando Bailamos" may be their masterpiece, a lilting bossa nova wrapped in the cocoon of a soaring string orchestra. The strings appear again on "I've Got to See You Again," and on a rediscovered French song. Delicate and exquisite, "Le Premier Bonheur du Jour" draws the string quartet in closer for a chamber orchestration perfectly matched to pianist Treder's deft arranging touch.
Inspired by tours in Hawaii and Palermo, Italy, where she headlined with the Orchestra Jazz Siciliana, Loren again teamed with friend and Grammy® Award-nominated producer Rick Chudacoff to write "Bare Feet," her ode to simplicity and rejuvenation. Infusing the song with its irresistible bounce took the artistry of two Oregon-based masters of ukulele, Ali Heyer and Craig Chee. Loren closes with the title track, which she penned with songwriter Benita Hill - a swirling, filigreed jewel set in waltz time, accompanied only by acoustic guitar, accordion, and felt-draped piano. It's as stripped down as jazz gets, as intimate as a whisper.
With Simply Love, Loren concludes that she was "striving for positivity, celebratory love and life." She clearly hit her target square on.