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Bria Skonberg: Bria

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One can’t evaluate an album according to what it isn’t. Still, it’s hard to evade the fact that Bria, trumpeter and vocalist Bria Skonberg’s fourth offering, lacks the playful energy of its predecessors, like 2014’s Into Your Own. (No wah-wah trumpet, no singing Jelly Roll Morton into her horn, no Stevie Wonder or Led Zeppelin mash-ups here.) Instead, Skonberg has made a subtler, more sophisticated record that pushes her away from “hot jazz” and in the direction of traditional pop.

In other words, Skonberg’s singing takes the spotlight. Her whispery, sultry voice is a solid instrument, palpably warm on “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me” and remarkably expressive on “Midnight Sun.” She’s disciplined, too, maintaining an even keel on the giddy klezmer exercise “Curious Game.”

There are still good trumpet solos on most of the 14 tracks. She often uses them to maintain her connection to trad-jazz, as in the Armstrong-ian statement on “From This Moment On,” which also contains a Lionel Hampton-esque vibraphone solo from Stefon Harris. Yet she is primarily her own accompanist. When she plays a long counterpoint intro on her own “How Can It Be,” the vocal has more distinction-as do the fills by pianist Aaron Diehl and tenor saxophonist Evan Arntzen. Two instrumentals, Sidney Bechet’s “Egyptian Fantasy” and Skonberg’s own “Down in the Deep,” feel tacked-on, out of place.

Bria is a mature, tasteful recording, with surefooted swing and fine musicians. (Bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Ali Jackson fill out the rhythm section.) It even takes risks; the creepy “My Shadow” might be called avant-garde. But it reins in the creative zest of Skonberg’s earlier work, for the sake, perhaps, of a profile more like Diana Krall’s. That’s her right as an artist, but a fan of Skonberg 1.0 also has the right to be disappointed.

Originally Published