FEED THE SPIRIT
Jazz singer Zara McFarlane, who was first noticed as a talented vocalist with the Jazz Jamaica AllStars duetting on ‘Ma Cherie Amour’, has just released her debut recording having been signed to Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label recently. Peter Quinn talks to an artist at ease with herself and someone who has something to sing about in her songs
The first thing you notice is the wonderfully pure vocal timbre. Next you start to appreciate the singular approach to melody and the unerring relationship with the pulse. But, listening to Zara McFarlane’s 10-track debut album, Until Tomorrow, what comes across most forcibly is the singer’s powerful storytelling gift. Meeting Zara before her evening gig at The Spice of Life, it comes as no surprise to discover that her favourite singer is the storyteller nonpareil, Nina Simone.
With a musical CV that includes collaborations with Denys Baptiste, Orphy Robinson, Soweto Kinch, Hugh Masekela and Jazz Jamaica All-Stars – she appeared on the latter’s 2006 Motown-themed album Motor City Roots – the album has been a long time in the pipeline. The singer first thought of making an album as long as 10 years ago, so for it to hit the streets feels like a missing piece of the UK jazz scene has finally been filled in. And like a fine 10-year-old malt whiskey, the recording offers a far greater depth of flavour than any wannabe jazz chanteuse could hope to achieve.
The singer brings to the debut an absolute wealth of formal music study that includes three years at the Brit School, where she specialised in what is her passion, musical theatre. “It was an amazing experience,” she tells me. “I loved every minute of it. I want to write a musical one day, that’s one of my plans.” Further study took her to Vocaltech at Thames Valley University, where she became more involved with jazz. “My link into jazz was that I recognised a lot of the songs because they were from musicals.” After her undergraduate degree in popular music, she met the Dune Records team of Gary Crosby and Janine Irons and started working with Tomorrow’s Warriors – whose line-up then included the likes of Nathaniel Facey, Jay Phelps,
Shaney Forbes – and Jazz Jamaica. This was invaluable experience, but left the singer feeling that she had a bit of catching up to do. “I felt I
didn’t know anything about jazz,” she confesses. “I wanted to delve deeper into what it was about.”
That delving deeper involved enrolling at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, a period of study which she views with a degree of ambivalence. “For me, personally, I learnt more being in the other bands and working alongside different musicians, than studying the music in the way that it was taught. But I learnt a lot about composition arranging.”
Perhaps the ambivalence can partly be explained by the singer’s very personal approach to the writing process, one of the things that makes
TAKING OFF TAKING OFF TAKING OFF TAKING OFF TAKING OFF TAKING OFF TAKING OFF
SOMEONE LIKE YOU
Josh Kyle takes it higher, influenced by Chet Baker, Jimmy Scott and Carmen McRae. Acknowledging his influences is one thing but this jazz vocal newcomer is already making a mark with his debut recording, says Peter Quinn
If having Claire Martin herald the arrival of your debut album with the words “a remarkable career is about to unfold” seems like undue pressure, twentysomething Australian singer Josh Kyle seems decidedly unfazed. “I’m really looking forward to releasing the album, actually,” he tells me. “Geoff [Gascoyne] and I have been putting this together for a while so I’m ready to have it out there and see how people respond to it. There are some nerves, having never released an album before, but they soon disappear. The name of the album, Possibilities, isn’t just the name of one of the tracks but also became the idea behind creating the project.”
Hailing from a tiny place called Smithtown in New South Wales, Australia (population: 500, chances of hearing jazz: zero), the singer gained a degree in music from the Australian Institute of Music in Sydney, where he studied with saxophonist Sean Coffin. But it was a live recording by one of Australia’s leading jazz vocalists Vince Jones, Live At The Basement, which really got him hooked on the music. “I’m sure many wouldn’t recognise the name, but those who do really know how great this guy is. When I first moved over to London one of the first questions I was asked was had I listened to a lot of Vince Jones growing up. He’s a very soulful jazz singer who also plays trumpet, a voice like elastic and a killer range. I still listen to the album today — there’s always something to learn from listening to Vince.”
Kyle first came London in 2009 – it was also his first trip outside Australia – and recalls that his debut gig was sitting in with Claire Martin at Chelsea’s 606 Club at a benefit for guitarist Jim Mullen. “Nothing like jumping in at the deep end, with most of London’s best in the same room,” Kyle recalls. “It was one of those times I knew I had to really step up. I’d just met Claire that same week as I had a singing lesson with her. To this day, I
16 NOVEMBER11 // Jazzwise