ZARA MCFARLANE – If You Knew Her
aaamusic | On 17, Jan 2014
Zara McFarlane is a rising London-based jazz singer, whose beautifully honeyed and pure voice you will remember. If you are fond of Nina Simone and Jose James, you will want to follow her as well; Zara even participated in last year’s Nina Simone tribute concerts in the Netherlands with Gregory Porter.
After her 2011 debut Until Tomorrow, Zara‘s second album is finally being released (January 2014). If You Knew Her, on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label, is an emotionally loaded work seeing this talented singer progressively getting assurance as an asserted artist.
Most of the album showcases her voice, with only a plain instrumentation of double-bass or piano in the background – although, having a good voice timbre and technique, she could have used it in a slightly wider range in order for us to really get an overview of her vocal skills.
The album opens on smooth Caribbean drums in the quiet first track ‘Open Heart’, and continues on an old school wave through songs like the poised ‘Move’ and the retake on Nina Simone’s ‘Plain Gold Ring’, both songs being reminiscent of the ‘spiritual jazz’ Black movement of the 70s in America.
Apart from her own compositions, one of the key tracks is of course the fine jazz resurrection of ‘Police and Thieves’, already a fan-favourite and radio-choice. It offers a nice saxophone solo, one of the few throughout the album, and the track increases in intensity until a break at 5’40”, where the quiet feeling of the beginning returns.
The eighth, ‘Angie La La’, featuring Leron Thomas, gives a nice duo with the two singers, and is one of the few tracks offering a larger spectrum of Zara‘s abilities. This is a reworking of a 60s reggae Jamaican song – a kind of experimental jazz moment. The trumpet here gives a good accompaniment to Leron’s gravel voice, though it gets a bit too talkative around the end.
All in all, If You Knew Her is a mirror of Zara McFarlane‘s personality: a contemplative and engaging album combining jazz with Black music, having as its basis thought-provoking writing – a fine and promising work indeed.