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July/August 2007

Lauren Hooker
Right Where I Belong
Musical Legends

Plenty of jazz artists grow up with Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck and their iconic brethren, but Lauren Hooker is one of the few who can claim to have done so literally. She is the daughter of celebrated musician and conductor Louis Hooker. She studied music education at Fairleigh Dickinson, where her dad headed the Fine Arts Department. Her post-grad work included jazz theory with Kenny Barron at Rutgers and jazz voice with Sheila Jordan at the Manhattan School of Music. Nearly two decades ago, she set lyrics to Mal Waldron’s “Seagulls of Kristiansund” and recorded them with Waldron himself.

Since then, she created the multimedia installation “Jazz Expressions,” appeared on a spectrum of arts-related TV shows and guested on more than a dozen other performers’ albums. Now, after what must surely rank as one of the longest and most intense preparatory periods in jazz history, Hooker has finally made her own album-length debut. Hooker’s vocal stylizing, with its clarion tone, crisp phrasing (reminiscent of both Nancy Wilson and Shirley Horn) and blues-accented undercurrent, is undeniably impressive, and her covers of “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” “Ill Wind” and “Creole Love Call” are certainly imaginative.

But Hooker’s greatest strengths lie on the other side of the mike. As craftswoman of original tunes—the bright and breezy “The Eyes of Chaz” (written for her infant son), the long-distance love lament “The Other Side of the Sun,” the clever “Time and Space,” a peppy dissection of a romance that’s physically fulfilling but emotionally vacant, and “No Goodbyes,” the deceptively simple tale of a too-long bruised and battered heart—she can hold her own against pretty much any singer-songwriter in the business.

Hooker’s ability to add lyrics to instrumental classics—the aforementioned “Seagulls,” “Goodbye Pork Pie” (an autobiographical sketch fitted to Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”), Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” reinvented as the feisty “You Needn’t Call Me,” Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” shaped into the heartbreaking “Footprints on My Soul” (which Hooker originally wrote for Sheila Jordan) and Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” revved into the breakneck merry-go-round of “Lovebug Jitters”—is flat-out masterful.

Originally published in July/August 2007
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