Grammy-winning jazz artist Samara Joy does a “star turn” on
Eric Wyatt’s A Song of Hope
Eric Wyatt’s 2021 record A Song for Hope on the Whaling City Sound label is an adventurous, colorful, unpredictable, and wide-ranging session, a tour de force of immense creativity and incredible vision. It’s also something of a departure from his last effort, The Golden Rule: For Sonny, also on WCS, which featured the saxophonist in a more straight-ahead jazz setting.
A Song for Hope is also, as it turns out, a star turn for one of Wyatt’s guest performers, none other than Samara Joy, the young jazz vocalist that, quite unexpectedly, happened to win not one but two Grammy Awards last week, one for Best New Artist, and another for Best Jazz Vocal for Linger Awhile. Samara Joy now records for Verve.
Wyatt invited Samara Joy to sing two songs on A Song for Hope, and both are marvelous, in a way, a foreshadowing of the singer’s incredible talent. The first track, “Say Her Name,” is a luminous tribute to Breonna Taylor. “I was looking for her to convey the pain of that event,” says Wyatt, and she did. “When I listen back to it, I remember the hope we all felt in making these songs, and Samara Joy was an excellent part of that.”
Samara Joy is also featured on Wyatt’s soulful take on Sting’s “Fragile.” The singer delivers an ethereal, magical performance, accompanied by Wyatt on soprano sax. Listening to these tracks, it’s no wonder that Samara Joy got the attention she did, both from Wyatt, who invited her to sing with him, and more recently, by the Academy, who awarded her such a distinguished prize.
That said, no one was more surprised by the win than the vocalist herself. “I can’t even believe—I’ve been watching y’all on TV for so long!” she said, in an attempt at an acceptance speech. “All of you inspire me because of who you are. You express exactly who you are authentically. So, to be here by just being myself, I’m just so thankful.”
As it turns out, Wyatt’s recording was a big step in Samara Joy’s career journey so far. In fact, she parlayed several important steps into a recording contract with Verve.
Wyatt sensed he wanted an impressive singer to guest on his recording and he knew that Samara Joy had won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition back in 2019 at the age of 21. She had been referred to the session by one of his musicians, bass player Mike Boone, a relative of Samara Joy.
Wyatt has always had an eye for talent. A Song of Hope features drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, bassist Eric Wheeler, and pianist Donald Vega along with an all-star horn section and a few additional guests.
“Samara became a blessing in disguise,” says Wyatt. He had originally thought he’d produce an instrumental version of “Fragile.” “When I heard her sing, I knew she could convey the feeling of both of those songs. And she did.”
O’s Notes: Tenor saxophonist Eric Wyatt leads the charge with an excellent band that sizzles and pops throughout the session. We enjoyed their cover of “Fragile” featuring vocalist Samara Joy, the funky “Fur Live”, “Contemplation” and Watts’ rousing drum solo on “Of Things To Come ime”, a duet with Wyatt. We also enjoyed “One For Hakim” featuring the entire band, a strong showing for trumpeter Theo Croker, Wyatt and the fierce rhythm section: Donald Vega (p), Eric Wheeler (b) and Jeff Watts (d).
On A Song of Hope, his second album for Whaling City Sound, saxophonist Eric Wyatt offers more than hope; he offers assurance that contemporary jazz is alive and well in and around his home base of Brooklyn, NY. Wyatt, the godson of another rather well-known saxophonist, Sonny Rollins, performs in groups of various sizes, from quartet to octet, with vocals by Samara Joy on two numbers, “Fragile” and Wyatt’s “Say Her Name.” The almost-constants are pianist Donald Vega, bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Jeff Watts, who are on board for eight numbers but step aside for a pair of Wyatt-Watts duets and are replaced by bassist Mike Boone and his talented fourteen-year-old son, drummer Mekhi Boone, on John Coltrane‘s “Central Park West” and McCoy Tyner‘s “Contemplation.”
Watch Jeff “Tain” Watts and Delbert Felix meet after over 25 years!
Whaling City Sound, whalingcitysound.com Chris Lowery (tr.), Theo Croker (tr., flic.), Clifton Anderson (trne), EricWyatt (sop., ten., voc), Donald Vega (p.), Eric Wheeler, Mike Boone (cb.), Jeff Tain Watts, Mekhi Boone (batt., voc.), Kahlil Qwame Bell (perc.), Samara Joy (voc.).
New York, ottobre 2020.
This record is the bomb. We announced it last October on the occasion of an article who took stock of the situation of jazz musicians in New York during the full-blown period of the pandemic. In reality, its publication was scheduled for last May / June, while it came out in September. But it was worth the wait. Here we discover – and with pleasure – a greater versatility of the Brooklyn tenorist, with an attention to that spirituality which is now overwhelmingly current and present in certain tributes that he has decided to dedicate to some of the prominent personalities of modern music (Coltrane’s “Central Park West,” McCoy Tyner’s “Contemplation,” Sting’s “Fragile). But there is not only this: the Latin-tinged “Sunset Park Bonita”, the funkish gait of “Fur Live” (a composition by the young and emerging trumpeter Chris Lowery), the bop of “Blues For RH” (dedicated to Roy Hargrove), the metropolitan emotionality of the title-track, ultimately the whole album is pervaded by a contagious energy that accounts for an in-depth and visceral knowledge of the jazz language. With a phrasing poised between Rollins and Coltrane, EricWyatt has always loved to surround himself with solid (Jeff Watts, Clifton Anderson, Donal Vega) and new ones (Theo Croker, Chris Lowery, 15-year-old Mekhi Boone on drums) brilliant personalities of American jazz. Once again he hit the mark.
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