More and more these days, jazz vocalists are using innovation to reassert the idea that the voice is a legitimate instrument. Cassandra Wilson has been a hugely influential force since the 1980s, putting hip-hop and the blues shoulder-to-shoulder with straight-ahead influences. In recent years, singers like Kurt Elling and Gretchen Parlato have joined the ranks.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves: Andréa Wood isn’t at that level yet. But Wood, the newest vocal talent on the D.C. scene, is reaching for a similar place while defining a personal style, and she deserves credit for it.
Wood’s debut album, Dhyana, charts a path of constant diversity. It starts off with “Comes Love,” a back-pages classic that’s usually approached with a bluesy swing. Her version begins with a pattern from upright bassist Blake Meister that could well be the first 15 seconds of an old A Tribe Called Quest track, then drummer Nate Jolley kicks in with a bouncy hip-hop beat. Through it all, Wood’s voice is viscous and strong, sensitive but centered. She reads the classic tune’s airy, “oh well” lyric with a knowing sensibility beyond her years (she turns 24 in a week).
Andréa Wood – “Hold on to the Center (House of Jade)”
[audio:https://www.capitalbop.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/04-Hold-On-To-The-Center-House-Of-Jade.mp3|artists=Andréa Wood|titles=”Hold On To The Center (House Of Jade)”|width=270]Over the next three tunes, Wood sings in Portuguese over a bass-congas-steel pan combo (“Pra Que Discutir Com Madame”); gives a robust if relatively traditional reading to a classic, poignant ballad (“The End of a Love Affair”); and completely refashions a lesser-known Wayne Shorter piece (“Hold on to the Center [House of Jade]”). “House of Jade” was originally a slow-burning, Eastern-influenced dirge, but Wood turns it into a mid-tempo tune with a modern Latin groove and adds a personal set of lyrics that reflect her album’s title. (Dhyana is a word from Buddhist scriptures representing a process of contemplation and self-discovery.)
From here, the album continues with a song in French (the beguiling “Syracuse”), an original (the intimate ballad “For the Meantime”) and a few more standards with inventive arrangements. Throughout, Wood’s voice has gravity and, appropriately, self-awareness; it’s the strong epoxy holding together this varied collection of tunes.
The only question that nags at you after hearing Dhyana’s 11 tracks is whether in all its strength and contemplation, it has hopscotched over what often makes music come alive: a sense of freedom, and trust in the power of moments. Somewhere alongside Wood’s deft intensity, there might have been room for a lighter touch once in a while. Still, this is only the beginning of what’s on pace to be a fascinating, dynamic career.
Dhyana can be purchased at CD Baby by clicking here.