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Barbara Sfraga: Oh, What a Thrill

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Making an exceptional debut as leader, versatile vocalist Barbara Sfraga engages listeners straightaway with her multifaceted style on 12 jazz/pop standards and originals. Her dynamic delivery brings to mind Anita O’Day or Patricia Barber, yet Sfraga’s one of those rare warblers who becomes immersed in lyrics without over-embellishing for special effect.

Sfraga has a distinctive sultry-sweet sound and innate ability to connect with her musicians. She obviously knows how to dramatically shape a song. Trained as a classical vocalist, Sfraga was exposed to essential jazz vocal masters in college before she discovered adventurous singers such as Mark Murphy, Betty Carter and Jon Hendricks, whose subtle influences can be heard here.

Sidemen Bruce Saunders (guitar), David Berkman (piano), John Hebert (bass), Eric Halvorson (drums) heighten Sfraga’s bold takes on “Great Balls of Fire,” “Miss Harper Goes Bizarre,” “Good Morning Heartache,” “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “Invitation,” her rewritten ballad finale, “Song for My Mother” and more. Guests Fred Hersch (piano) and Mark Murphy (vocals on one track) lend extra flair.

Sfraga’s occasional scatting may be the weakest aspect of her style, but should improve as she continues to develop her craft. In the meantime, her self-assured, unpredictable phrasing at any tempo (developed in NYC clubs since 1986) earns her high marks when compared with other new-generation jazz vocalists.