A jazz vocalist’s foundational skill lies in the ability to not simply sing, but to interpret a song. Outside of the classical genre, few audiences are as discriminating (or perhaps cranky) as jazz fans. There’s a reason they call those timeless jazz songs “standards”: As a singer and an interpreter, you either meet those standards or you don’t. And if you’re unwilling or unable to pay homage to “My Funny Valentine” and its kin, it’ll likely be a short, tough jazz career for you.
Fortunately for her, vocalist Laurin Talese is blessed with exceptional chops and impeccable song choices. On Gorgeous Chaos—Talese’s debut album released this past March—she’s surrounded by serious musical heavyweights. Robert Glasper, Vivian Green, and Christian McBride all lend their exquisite musicianship to complement her voice.
Yes, Talese can croon faithful-yet-singular renditions of American Songbook classics like “Someone to Watch over Me.” But she’s equally adept at bending the ears of jazz purists toward more contemporary selections. Witness Talese’s take on Bilal’s “Love Poems,” off his 2001 debut album.
The choice itself is a nod to her roots—Talese got her break singing back-up for the Philly soul man. And this sprightly jazz arrangement of the tune, coupled with Talese’s delicate phrasing of the tenderly inquisitive lyrics, refashion “Love Poems” from neo-soul into a worthy contemporary classic. Virtuoso drummer Ulysses Owens Jr.’s sticks very nearly steal the show, but Talese’s lush vocal breakdown on the outro sweeps in to reclaim the tune as her own.