By: Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoirs
A CD REVIEW FOR BLACK MUSIC MONTH
BY Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
VIVIAN SESSOMS – “LIFE ii” ropeadope Records
Vivian Sessoms, vocals/producer/arranger; Chris Parks, bass/producer/arranger/electric piano/ programmer/keys; Shedrick Mitchell, piano/organ/arranger; Christian Gates, keys/programming;/ guitar/drum programming; Dave Archer, keys; Sherrod Barnes & Mark Whitefield, guitar; Donald Edwards, Eric Brown & Billy Kilson, drums; Kenyatta Beasley, trumpet; Vincent Gardner, trombone; John Isley, saxophone; Casey Benjamin, saxophones/Fender Rhodes; Adi Yeshaya, string arranger; Charisa the violin diva, strings; Meku Yisreal, conga; Gregoire Maret, harmonica.
Vivian Sessoms is a composer, producer and vocalist. She has made her mark in the music business after years of preparation and practice. As a young talent, at the tender age of nine, Vivian was already doing television and radio voice overs. Her parents saw her artistic potential and she received classical training in voice and piano. Her first major tour was with Ryuichi Sakamoto, a pianist and composer. On the road with this brilliant artist and mentor, along with a band of awesome musicians including Manu Katche, Victor Bailey, and Darryl Jones, this fledgling songbird blossomed and took flight. She even learned to sing in Japanese. Her amazing vocal ability has impressed both in the studio and ‘live,’ such artists as P. Diddy, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Sinead O’Connor, Pink, Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder, to list just a few. You probably have heard her vocals on any number of commercial jingles including Adidas, Afrosheen, Burger King, Calvin Klein, Campbells Soup, Coke, Dark & Lovely, Hersheys, Hyatt, even the IRS.
Listening to her lovely vocals on “The Best Is Yet To Come” I hear shades of Chaka Khan phrasing and a penchant towards Rhythm and Blues grit. She makes the song hers, far from the Frank Sinatra version, reinventing it to a more smooth-jazz production.
There is a Hip-Hop rap interval that follows this song featuring Major TRUTH Green that protests police violence against innocent-until-proven-guilty victims. This is followed by Sessoms’ gospel fused, R&B tune, “I Can’t Breathe.” Sessoms’ vocals soar, powerful and sincere like queen Aretha. Mark Whitfield is prominently featured on guitar and Shedrick Mitchell is effective and notable on organ as the lyrics mirror the heart-wrenching plea from Eric Garner as police choked him to death. It is clear this is a political statement triggered by the continued institutional, racial violence against people of color in America.
“There are so many things happening in the world that I care about and want to see change in, but none so much as halting the killing of black people,”Vivian Sessoms states.
“If They Only Knew” clearly shows this artist’s amazing vocal gift. It’s a beautiful ballad that features the sweet harmonica solo of Gregoire Maret. This song is a fusion jazz arrangement where Sessoms showcases her perfect pitch, awesome range and spectacular ability to deliver a lyric with an abundance of recognizable emotion.
The idea of segueing into Vivian Sessoms songs with musical interludes and hip-hop rap is interesting, but on the whole, distracts from Vivian Sessoms’ talent and delivery. It breaks up the flow of this production. Stevie Wonder’s composition, “As” is painted with an unusual minor-keyed, rhythm arrangement, but Sessoms holds true to the melody with her powerful vocals. This is obviously an experimental project that sounds more like a group effort than a single artist’s project. I definitely don’t see it as a jazz project. However, I admire Vivian Sessoms talent and her artistic desire to bring about change and political protest with her voice and musical choices.
The bass propels this project, thanks to the mastery of Chris Parks, who is also her partner in this production. Additionally, they have collaborated to songwrite and produce for a number of celebrity artists on other projects.
On the composition, “Thing” I hear shades of Esther Satterfield and at times, a throw-back to Minnie Ripperton’s style and grace; not the range, but the phrasing. The echo effects and over-lapping voice-overs on many of the songs can become a distraction. This vocalist doesn’t need effects to enhance her already powerful vocals. I would love to hear Vivian Sessoms featured in a more authentic jazz production, perhaps like the Jean Carn and Doug Carn original project or maybe celebrating Nancy Wilson. However,I recognize this album is a mixture of many musical styles and genres.
Although I rarely review this type of production, because my column is all about jazz, I was still smitten with this artist’s incredible voice and political character. There is no doubt, Vivian Sessoms is a stunning vocalist and a voice to be heard throughout the generations. Consequently, I wanted to feature her talents during Black Music Month.