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Anna Laura Quinn: Open the Door (Outside In)

A review of the vocalist and arranger's first full-length release

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Anna Laura Quinn: Open the Doors
The cover of Open the Doors by Anna Laura Quinn

Anna Laura Quinn’s debut album doesn’t sound like the work of an ingenue. Her first full-length release artfully threads the jazz needle, paying direct tribute to her formative influences while establishing her own winsome identity as a savvy vocalist and arranger with an appealing sound, unfailing taste, and expansive palette of influences. She produced Open the Door and crafted the arrangements, which tend toward the understated and make excellent use of veteran New Orleans guitarist Ed Barrett. Their duet on Ellis Marsalis’ exquisite ballad “Cry Again,” a luscious harmonic steeplechase he wrote with Sarah Vaughan in mind, is worth the price of admission alone.

Quinn opens the album with a stripped-down version of Abbey Lincoln’s “Talking to the Sun” that captures the sturdy folk magic of her music. The title track, an abject late-night plea by Betty Carter, features a gorgeous arrangement inspired by Ethio-jazz legend Mulatu Astatke, a combination that pays steep harmonic dividends. Quinn provides her own background vocals on a brief but captivating a cappella version of the Sammy Fain/Bob Hilliard gem “Very Good Advice”—a technique she revisits on Ellington and Strayhorn’s sublime “The Single Petal of a Rose,” a duet with the impressive baritone saxophonist Kate Campbell-Strauss. Set to a quietly predatory guitar line with insinuating bari fills, her slinky take on “Love for Sale” inextricably tethers the song to the sex trade without turning explicitly lascivious.

Bay Area jazz fans might be familiar with Quinn from her 2018 EP I Feel a Sudden Urge to Sing! or her regular appearances with San Francisco mandolinist Michael Zisman’s Americano Social Club. In recent years she’s been earning a master’s degree in jazz studies at the University of New Orleans, and Open the Door announces the graduation of a vocalist fully equipped to make an important contribution. 

Learn more about Open the Door on Amazon & Apple Music!

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Andrew Gilbert

Andrew Gilbert is a Berkeley-based freelancer who has written about arts and culture since 1989 for numerous publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, East Bay Express, Berkeleyside, and KQED’s California Report. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he experienced a series of mind-blowing epiphanies listening to jazz masters at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in the late 1980s, performances he remembers more vividly than the gigs he saw last month.