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Barbara Sfraga And Center Search Quest: Timelessness Frozen in Time

Ms. Sfraga claims her quintet, Center Search Quest, plays “music without borders.” Consider her backgound; church organist to rock-and-roll belter to jazz singer-writer-arranger. She has never met a genre she didn’t like or couldn’t assimilate: In the past, Sfraga has done “Sophisticated Lady” as an up tempo jazz waltz and added reggae to “Stardust.” In Sfraga’s new album, she calls herself a voicist; Michael Thompson is a soundrythmium. Bottom line: Few fusion groups can compete with such jazz-oriented diversity. The trio of singers, scat-savvy Sfraga, Mala Waldron (Mal’s daughter), who doubles on keyboards, and Thompson, doubling on percussion, bark out phrases with the bite of a brass section, and Barbara’s soprano cuts through massed sonorities like a laser. On “Be There,” tenorist Allen Won adds his horn to the vocal blend, creating four-note chords while the feeling of 3-against-4 pervades the track. On the title tune, Sfraga and her fearless voicists swing in 5/4 as Won’s soprano sax weaves soothing obligati. Sfraga’s high, thin voice has no difficulty coping with her own wordiness on “Cool Water”; the lyrics are crystal clear. Kudos to Christopher Sullivan for choosing acoustic bass to get that distinctive growl. Highlight: the give and take of “Hang On, Fly Home,” Sfraga trading fours and eights with Won’s tenor, culminating in astonishing, contrapuntal “free scat.”

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