Sarah Wilson’s Trapeze Project plays at Yoshi’s Oakland on Monday, Nov. 29, at 8:00 p.m. Tickets $14, plus a minimum of two food/drink items (but they’re pretty mellow about enforcing the second item).
Sarah Wilson — Trapeze Project (Brass Tonic, 2010)
You might consider Sarah Wilson’s stuff to be pop jazz at first, but it’s interesting that she’s got the support of Myra Melford (piano) and Ben Goldberg (clarinet). On this album, they’re given ample room to wander about, turning the songs into layered tapestries rich in detail.
As Andrew Gilbert wrote for the East Bay Express, Wilson didn’t set out to be a jazz composer. Her first writing job, a 1995 commission, was completed on intuition built from Dixieland jazz and evenings spent at the Knitting Factory, back when it was a haven for outside jazz.
Trapeze Project is a bright, upbeat album, with a traditional jazz sense of melody and a lot of busy chatter from piano, clarinet, bass (Jerome Harris) and drums (Scott Amendola … this is one heck of a band she’s assembled). A lot of tracks work the way “Blessing” does, starting out with a pleasantly brassy theme — something you’d associate with a small circus, maybe — then getting into loose, swirling solos and comping. (Actually, traditional New Orleans jazz can get this way. I remember being struck by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, because they’d get into group-improvising stretches where they’d stick to the tune, yet nobody was playing any part of the tune any more, except arguably the drummer.)
I especially liked “Zebulon,” a jumping, bluesy romp with a terrific solo from Goldberg.
A lot gets made of the fact that Wilson sings — particularly on a folky take on Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” I like her voice; she’s closer to indie-rock deadpan than jazz crooning. She’s got three vocal tracks on here, plus some wordless singing on “She Stands in a Room,” a slower track where her “da da dum” vocals meet a chord that conjures a widely opening sky, a very nice touch.
(Bonus: Wilson’s show on Monday is early enough that you could head to the Berkeley/Albany zone for a nightcap at Kingman’s Ivy Room, where the Phillip Greenlief Quartet will probably still be playing: Monk covers and originals from a sax-and-guitar band. Greenlief’s Evander Music label released Wilson’s first album, Music for an Imaginary Play.)