Now this is a good album. Susan Tobocman has chosen a fine collection of standards, classics, and originals and a band of dedicated and interpretive artists that can give life to the instrumentation and can give her space for her own vocal expressions to make her album Touch & Go a work worthy of great attention and praise.
With Susan is the excellent Joel Frahm on tenor and soprano saxes, Pete McCann on guitars, Henry Hey on piano and Fender Rhodes, Matt Pavolka on basses, Michael Sarin on drums, and Dave Eggar on cello. This is an excellent line-up.
The album opens with Irving Berlin’s What’ll I Do. Pavolka bass carries the intro and the band creates a samba feel for Susan’s marvelous interpretation of the classic. It is not the typical legato punctuations from the band but is more smooth than dreary. The great Pete McCann nails the guitar work (over and over throughout the album) and Hey’s Fender Rhodes is wonderful but it’s those Susan vocals that wins the heart. Got to love her delivery and intonation.
Jimmy Webb’s Wichita Lineman is not something you normally hear interpreted by a female vocalist but Susan turns the lyrics from first-person singular to second-person. The Dave Eggar cello is a brilliant addition to McCann and Hey. Susan makes the song into a lovely ballad about the man she loves. Always a beautiful song, Susan takes it to a whole ‘nother place.
Next up is Gershwin’s The Man I Love. Once again, Susan eschews the drawn-out delivery of Ella Fitzgerald or Etta James and turns this into more of an upbeat expectation. Frahm’s sax solos are spectacular and Hey and the rhythm section turn this song upside down. Like most of the songs on the album, Susan arranged this song and it is splendid. I find myself loving her arrangements almost as much as her vocals.
She then offers her first original composition with Make Believe. Cool sax work from Frahm and the rhythmic changes from Sarin and Pavolka are delicious.
Leaves of Absence is another original and the soprano sax introduction is simply gorgeous. Then we get a duet from Frahm and McCann that is so cool. Hey follows up with an excellent piano passage. Only when the song comes to an end do you realize that it was an instrumental.
The biggest surprise comes with Susan’s arrangement and interpretation of John Lennon’s Help! The guitar, the piano, the bass and drums are brilliant and Eggar’s cello creates the plaintiveness that the words alone cannot convey.
I Could Get Used to This is another Susan original. It is so different from Make Believe or Leaves of Absence. Again, Frahm makes great contributions on the tenor sax with Pavolka and Sarin also contributing fine solos. As always, McCann is right on. Love the composition, the arrangement, the vocals.
Susan follows with another original, The Way to You. McCann weaves some of the most beautiful guitar work of the whole album here and Hey follows with beautiful piano. But the lyrics and the vocals of Susan are beyond compare. How wonderful. Then Susan follows with her fifth original of the album, the title track, Touch & Go. McCann and Frahm are highlighted on yet another instrumental.
Susan is nothing if not generous with time and space.
Where is Love by Lionel Bart is from the wonderful musical Oliver! The instrumentation is limited to Pete McCann’s acoustic guitar and Dave Eggar’s cello. So sweet, so melancholy. Susan makes it her own.
You Only Live Twice was John Barry’s title song for the James Bond movie of the same name. It was sung for the film by Nancy Sinatra. You only live twice/Or so it seems/One for yourself/and one for your dreams. Good stuff and Susan and the musicians take such a fantastic turn on that song. This song deserves repeat playing over and over and over.
Susan wraps up the album with an alternate version of Help! I’m so glad that she didn’t pick one version over the other but included both. When you hear them both, you’ll see what I mean.
Susan Tobocman is a Jazz lover’s dream. Her vocals are beyond compare but her arrangements and compositions are beyond description. She is talented and brilliant beyond measure. Touch & Go does not describe the power and beauty of the album; she was full on, right on, every step of the way.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl
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