By: Travis Rogers Jr. (The Jazz Owl)
In November of 2013, Chiara Izzi released her debut album Motifs and splashed onto the American concert scene having already captivated European audiences. Motifs was a charming and delightful introduction for new audiences. I called her “A talent to be heard, admired and anticipated.” The great Quincy Jones told her, “Sister, you are very, very talented. That was then.
Now she has released Across the Sea with pianist and vocalist Kevin Hays and it has been worth the seemingly ages-long wait. She is soulful and charming and he is exact and original. John Scofield called him, “All encompassing” and Brad Meldau said of Kevin, “Everything he plays has a deep intelligence and swing.”
Across the Sea is 10 songs—four are Chiara’s originals—and the choice she and Kevin made in the recording and production team is unmistakably inspired. The recording itself is a work of art, the sound is wonderfully rich and lush and mixed so incredibly well. The blend of her voice and his piano, and his voice, is something compelling and heart-warming.
Chiara wrote the opening piece, Circles of the Mind. Kevin’s piano and Nir Felder’s guitar create an atmospheric introduction and Chiara joins the ballad. It is a sweet description of a girl struggling to grow while reconnecting with her own innocence. Rob Jost (bass) and Greg Joseph (drums) with Hays make space for Felder’s well-timed and inspired guitar work. But Hays catches the listener’s attention early and often.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Chiara’s vocals are simply charming.
One of the biggest surprises on the album is I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face. From 1956’s My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe, Chiara and Kevin prove the timelessness of the song. Kevin joins with Chiara in this sweet—but not syrupy—vocal duet that melts the heart. The original was great but Chiara and Kevin make it marvelous. I can’t get enough of this one.
James is that well-known Pat Metheny song about James Taylor from the 1982 album Offramp. Kevin wrote the lyrics and it is the finest tribute to James Taylor that one could imagine. Gregoire Maret contributes an excellent harmonica solo as Kevin follows him on the Fender Rhodes. It makes you dig out your James Taylor albums. But then…
They do it for you! They follow with James Taylor’s own Secret O’ Life. Cool track order. Chiara and Kevin trade vocals and then duet together. It is a splendid example of the Old World and the New coming together with their different world-views and experiences and creating a warm expression of agreement and solidarity.
Two for the Road by Henry Mancini is from the fil of the same name with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. Mancini once referred to Two for the Road as his favorite of all his compositions. Mancini was adept at portraying loss, sadness, love, and even joy, in his soundtracks and Chiara and Kevin mirror that same talent and skill in their treatment of such a beautiful piece of music. Rob Jost does double duty with his turn on French horn and adds warmth to an already warm song. Exquisite.
Chiara composed Across the Sea. In the first stanza, she sings the line But if I return/I’ll miss my chance… And Chiara sings it exactly the way Billie Holiday intoned I don’t stand/A ghost of a chance in the song Ghost of a Chance. I don’t know if that was intentional but, when I heard Chiara’s delivery of the lyric, I could hear Billie. It was a sweet nod-and-a-wink. Plus, Maret returns with the fine harmonica solo and Kevin follows with some sweet Jazz piano.
The performances were stellar but the composition itself is deserving of so much credit. It is almost as if the artists were as inspired by the piece as Chiara was. Everyone turned in priceless contributions.
Viaggo Elegiaco was written by Chiara and Kevin. Chiara sings the Elegaic Travel song in Italian and it just steals your heart. Kevin gets in some of most exciting piano within the trio portions. Then we get rewarding sax additions from Chris Potter to make this a terrific framework for the musicians. I found myself enjoying the originals as much, actually more, than the covers.
Another original from Chiara (and Rosario Bonoccorso) follows with Verson Il Mare (or To the Sea). Jost’s bass opens the piece and is soon joined by Chiara. This is a near-bossa nova song and piano, bass and drums lay down the hot rhythm section for a harmonica insertion. That trio of Kevin, Jost and Joseph makes your hair stand on end—they are that tight. And Chiara is as lovely as always.
Tierna Nardis is an arrangement of Miles Davis’ 1958 composition Nardis. This was during Davis’ modal period and was treated over and over again by Bill Evans in multiple settings and recordings. Kevin boldly takes the master’s work and owns it. Omer Avital’s “ancestral” oud playing is a special treat. Chiara’s vocals are as much instrumental as they are lyrical. Her hums add beautifully to the song. For a fan of Miles, this treatment pays off in vast dividends.
The album ends with the song With You I’m Born Again. Written by David Shire and Carol Connor, I first heard the song as performed by Billy Preston and Syreeta. I heard the song in 1979 and—always and forever a Billy Preston fan—grabbed up the 45-rpm single.
Again, Chiara and Kevin sing in duet in a fitting and fabulous conclusion to a fabulous album. It is just their vocals and solo piano that end the album. Just as it should be.
Across the Sea is Chiara Izzi’s second album but she and Kevin Hays have such poise and personality and undiluted talent and—I’ll say it again—charm that one could easily think that this was their tenth album together. They are perfect together.