The ferocity of her explorations might suggest otherwise, but everything vocal innovator Mary LaRose does is carefully, meticulously calculated. The cover image for Reincarnation, with everything in sharp focus except LaRose herself, can be taken as a metaphor. For LaRose, arguably the finest vocal and lyrical re-interpreter of postbop and avant-garde classics around, music is less about individual achievement than contributing to a greater whole.
It is a sentiment shared by LaRose’s equally intrepid husband, reed player Jeff Lederer, who shaped Reincarnation’s 10 arrangements. The title refers to the opening track, a staccato take on Charles Mingus’ “Reincarnation of a Lovebird,” and to the fact that they have visited much of this material before and are now using the Brooklyn Rider string quartet as the linchpin for fresh interpretations.
Traveling from Mingus to Ornette Coleman to Eric Dolphy to Albert Ayler, with a beguiling mid-voyage pause for a free-floating, semi-spoken take on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” LaRose and the strings, augmented on various tracks by Lederer, drummer Matt Wilson and cornetist Kirk Knuffke, take these giants on invigorating rides. LaRose’s lyrics are as consistently clever as they are insightful, particularly her reworking of Mingus’ “Nostalgia in Times Square” as a condemnation of NYC’s Disneyfication, complete with a Psycho-esque twist on the “Mickey Mouse March.”