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Jackie Ryan: Passion Flower

San Francisco-based songbird Jackie Ryan has eluded me ’til now. Her debut album, recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s, was a U.K.-only release, and her first stateside studio album, For Heaven’s Sake, never crossed my radar. If, however, they’re anywhere near as formidable as her latest, Passion Flower (OpenArt), I suspect they’re worth searching for. The multilingual Ryan, whose roots are a heady mix of Mexican, Irish and French, is mightily impressive. There’s an obvious nod to Billie Holiday in her phrasing, but it’s clearly more salutatory than imitative. Opening with Holiday’s “Now or Never,” persuasive in its indulgent urgency, Ryan alternates between Brazilian standards (her Portuguese is impeccable), enduring jazz anthems and somewhat less-familiar gems like the haunting “Some Other Spring” and seductive “Lullaby of the Leaves.” She serves up a potent “Mood Indigo” that artfully maneuvers between heartfelt melancholy and self-pitying melodrama, spices things up with a sassily irreverent “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” then mixes a fragile “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” with a robust and fiery “Passion Flower” for a uniquely fulfilling Strayhorn medley. Ryan also proves to be an insightful lyricist. Crafting words to fit Joe Henderson’s “The Kicker,” she does an admirable job of replicating mentor Jon Hendricks’ effervescence while tossing kisses to Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Grant Green and Henderson himself. Even better are the soft, sensual lyrics she’s fashioned to complement the twilight hush of Barry Harris’ “Deep Love.”

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