Monika Borzym

An impressive debut album signals the arrival of a potentially major voice

As jazz imports go, vocalist Monika Borzym represents one of the freshest, most enticing arrivals in some time. The Polish-born 21-year-old was schooled in jazz theory, composition and performance in her homeland, and has been continuing her studies in the U.S. for the past few years, first at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music and currently at the L.A. Music Academy.

During her time in Florida, she met and impressed Matt Pierson, arguably the best producer on the contemporary jazz scene. Together with arranger Gil Goldstein (another of today’s finest), Pierson shaped Borzym’s just-released debut album, Girl Talk, surrounding her with a dozen top-drawer musicians, including pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Larry Grenadier, drummer Eric Harland and saxophonist Seamus Blake.

It’s not unusual for introductory albums to be wide-ranging affairs, designed to showcase the budding performer’s dexterity. Such eclecticism, clearly evident across Girl Talk, can often produce disjointed results, but in Borzym’s case, the stylistic expansiveness of the playlist reveals the breadth of her impressive abilities.

There’s strong suggestion of Austin’s richly talented Kat Edmonson in Borzym’s sound, underscored by a significant hint of Melody Gardot. She shares with both the rare, captivating capability of seeming simultaneously acrid and melliferous. Her interpretive skills approach the level of Tierney Sutton (one of her Music Academy instructors) and Madeleine Peyroux—in other words, nearing the forefront of post-millennial jazz singers.

As its title implies, the album’s 12 selections are drawn from a spectrum of female pop singer-songwriters, extending from Joni Mitchell and Fiona Apple to Feist and Estelle. Borzym opens with a sly, sexy take on Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” which, with its doleful harmonium intro (courtesy of Parks), suggests a smoky Paris boîte circa 1930. Her reading of Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine” is delightfully lissome, and she handles Erykah Badu’s “Appletree” with breezy self-assurance. Transforming Estelle’s “American Boy” into a bubbly bossa nova, she echoes the coy playfulness of Stacey Kent’s “Ice Hotel.”

A slightly chilled autumn wind superbly defines Feist’s wistful “Gatekeeper,” Harland’s jagged drum lines masterfully propel the wraithlike filminess of Bjork’s “Possibly Maybe,” and the interplay of dark and light through Dido’s “Thank You” is remarkably effective. Perhaps most compelling, though, is Borzym’s illumination of Rachael Yamagata’s “Even So,” its seesaw of bruised tenderness and sweet reverie recalling Peggy Lee’s classic treatment of “When the World Was Young.”

The closest Borzym comes to jazz standards is Mingus and Mitchell’s “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines,” which she and Pierson cunningly redefine as a mid-tempo swinger, and Abbey Lincoln’s “Down Here Below,” shot-through with quiet despair worthy of Lincoln or perhaps even Billie Holiday.

If Girl Talk is fair indication, Borzym has the potential to become a major jazz voice, particularly if she continues to align herself with helpmates as gifted as Pierson and Goldstein.

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