Brassy Swagger from a Sophisticated New Band
Ari Shagal has made my January zing, brushing away gray skies, chilly winds, and pitifully short days with her bold, brash, electrifying album, To Each! Shagal channels Laura Nyro, Donald Fagen, jazz in general, Broadway, and a lot more, and she proves to be a triple-threat performer, singer, and composer/arranger.
Though there are up- and down-tempo songs on this set, it's full of swagger and confidence -- the same feelings I get from a Steely Dan album. Shagal's music is chic, cool, and invigorating, even when it's the blues. It goes down easy while leaving a lasting impression. Two additional vocalists and three instrumentalists make up the core of her band, The Summarily Dismissed. Soprano Ferima Faye sings both lead vocals and backups, which are patterned on familiar soul-music trios. Matthew Lomeo, sounding somewhere between Donald Fagen and Al Green, provides solid baritone lead vocals. Joe Davi produced To Each! and plays simply amazing guitar, while Pat O'Leary, a member of the Bob Dorough Trio, plays bass. Eric Halvorson commands the drums.
There are a lot of friends who join in, perhaps most notably percussionist Nydia Mata, who was a regular member of Laura Nyro's band, and vibraphonist Francesco Picarazzi gives a distinctive sound to several numbers. Most notable among these is the opening "Oozing Awkward," a rhythmic foot-tapper that tells the story of a guy who just can't get a date. The wordplay is clever but right to the point:
Oozing awkward from every pore,
Every time like the time before,
Trembling hands and clammy skin,
He was oozing awkward, he could never win.
Other songs deal with different faces of the human condition. "Your Salve for Sorrow" is about a guy who hangs around his favorite girl, hoping that she'll ditch her bum relationship and go with him (but of course, she never will). "Tall and Resolute" is about a girl who is short and wishes she were not. "Jersey Babes" is about maligned and satirized women asking for a little respect (and being wryly satirized again in doing so). These are joined by other songs about familiar aspects of life, most approached with a dry sense of humor and razor-sharp observation.
The sound is warm yet precise, but not quite as much under the microscope as Steely Dan (though it leans in that direction). If you're looking to chase away the January blues, give this uber-sophisticated, high-energy disc a spin.
Be sure to listen to: "Shade-Walking," which features super-suave guest singer Kenny Washington, begins with the hypnotic effect of piano, gently struck cymbal, and vibraphone. Later on there's a break with a trumpet solo, and the vibraphone adds filigree to the vocals. It's a beautiful piece of scoring.
. . . Rad Bennett