Having served as a private chef, flying trapeze artist, and regisseur of enterprising circus shows, Kari Kirkland can rightly be classified as an itinerant creative. But she’s no dabbler, and it’s important to make that distinction. With each stop along her winding road Kirkland has dedicated herself to learning the ropes, and it’s no different with the one pursuit that’s actually been something of a constant in her life: Kirkland’s parents were both working musicians, and the aforementioned career choices have essentially been detours on her walk down that lane. Now, with the release of her debut as a singer, she realizes part of a lasting ambition.
Proving wise from the start by tapping Shelly Berg as arranger, pianist, and co-producer, Kirkland captivates with a blend of sultry-voiced self-assurance and vulnerability. Whether putting an alluring finish over Steely Dan’s “Do It Again,” expressing serious yearning during Labrinth’s “Jealous,” or heating up a joint like James Taylor’s “Steamroller Blues,” she always commits. Her brushes with more traditional jazz fare work equally well; she has her way with a riff-rooted “It’s All Right with Me” and rounds out some edges on a mellow “Too Close for Comfort.”
Although Kirkland shines, those who built her settings deserve near-equal credit. Berg delivers a masterclass on arranging and performing, with subtlety and surprise at his fingertips; the core that joins him—guitarist Dean Parks, bassist Kevin Axt, and drummer Gregg Field—defines good taste; and guest appearances from the Budapest Sessions Orchestra, percussionist Brian Kilgore, and two renowned trumpeters (John Daversa on “Do It Again,” the late Roy Hargrove on “Too Late Now”) embellish the music. Keeping good company while artfully walking the line where jazz and adult contemporary meet, Kari Kirkland proves that she’s finally right where she belongs.