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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby



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ZOE SCHWARZ

Step Up

33 Records 33JAZZ 171

 

 



 
1. Fine and Mellow
2. I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl
3. Blues To Frankie and Johnny
4. I Can Dream
5. Why Don’t You Do Right?
6. I’m Alright Jack
7. Just Another Day
8. Since I Fell For You
9. Danger Man
10. Until the Real Thing Comes Along
11. Dear Annie
12. Step Up, Play The Blues
13. These Times We Live In.

Zoe Schwarz - Vocals
Ian Ellis - Tenor sax
Sue Hawker - Vocals
Rob Koral - Guitar
Hilary Cameron - Fender Rhodes, vocals
Malcolm Creese - Double bass
Quinny Lawrence - Drums

 

As I may have said before (a hundred times?), there are so many female singers around that you have to be exceptional to stand out from the crowd. Zoe Schwarz is a good singer but not really exceptional. She delivers songs clearly and generally sings in tune but there's nothing much here to set her off from dozens of other vocalists. She shares several songs on this CD with another singer - Sue Hawker - and at least the contrast between their voices and styles shows where Zoe is superior. Sue sings with some superficial jazz inflections but without much convincing jazz feeling, and her enunciation of lyrics tends to be unclear - especially on Just Another Day, where she sings without Zoe. They both do quite a lot of scatting but much of it sounds rehearsed rather than spontaneous. Things don't improve when keyboardist Hilary Cameron joins the two main vocalists for I'm Alright Jack, which sounds like one of those "cheeky" trio vocals reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters.

The other drawback of this album is the choice of songs, several of which have already been recorded definitively by other vocalists. It was reckless to open the album with Fine and Mellow, a song which Billie Holiday made entirely her own. Zoe can't eradicate Billie's classic version from our minds, especially as she unwisely doubles the tempo halfway through. The same reservation applies to Why Don't You Do Right?, a song immortalised by Peggy Lee and, again, difficult to improve on. And Zoe's interpretation of I Want Some Sugar in My Bowl is just not raunchy enough.

Having got those criticisms out of the way, I can affirm that this is a pleasant album and it has strengths as well as weaknesses. The main strength resides in the instrumental contributions from saxist Ian Ellis and guitarist Rob Koral, who both play inventive, swinging solos - for example in Dear Annie and Step Up, Play the Blues. They are particularly exhilarating when they combine to swap fours, as they do on Why Don't You Do Right?

Many people will enjoy this CD, as Zoe and Rob write some interesting originals and the music is good-natured and inoffensive. But is that really the best thing you can say about a jazz album?

Tony Augarde



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