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Rachel Z: Grace

Those who have followed the rapid two-lane progress of keyboardist Rachel Z as she skillfully navigates both acoustic bop and jazz-fusion paths have heard the varied influences of McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, Herbie Hancock and, most obviously, Wayne Shorter. What they haven’t likely heard is the former Steps Ahead member’s singing voice. Not surprisingly, as demonstrated across seven of Grace’s 10 tracks, her singing is as delightfully schizophrenic as her playing.

Consistently left of center, the CD travels between the grounded gutsiness of Nellie McKay (with most of the grit removed) and the otherworldliness of Bjork, whose “Joga” she covers here, but strictly as an instrumental. Likewise, U2’s “One” and Kurt Cobain’s “Come as You Are” are given refreshingly intuitive nonvocal treatments, the latter in a richly layered arrangement that plays heavily to Chris J. Luard’s assertive bass line. Z’s early operatic training is used to good advantage on a dreamily plaintive “This Woman’s Work” that rivals the Kate Bush original, while her ethereal Bjorkness shines through on a gauzy “Imagine.” The five remaining tracks, each a Z original, are all over the map, ranging from the sweetly pained anticipation of the title track and jagged dissatisfaction of “Pain” to, most impressive, the slow-building “Riot” that likens sexual satisfaction to the explosive culmination of an impassioned insurrection.

Originally Published