Patrice Jégou doesn’t yodel or throat-sing on her second album, If It Ain’t Love, but the Canadian-born vocalist leaves little doubt that she could produce a polished track employing either technique if she set her mind to it. A classically trained mezzo-soprano who found her way to jazz relatively late, Jégou possesses a sumptuous instrument and impressive stylistic breadth. The question raised but not fully answered by this consistently entertaining project relates to her emotional depth.
The album’s constantly shifting array of settings and arrangers follows in the footsteps of her similarly expansive 2014 debut Speak Low. Designed to showcase her versatility, If It Ain’t Love presents Jégou more as a vocal chameleon than the project’s animating creative presence. That said, she is a commanding pop-jazz singer who shines in just about every context. Galloping out of the gate, the album opens with a crisp a cappella version of “Lover Come Back to Me,” a multitracked confection with Take 6’s Alvin Chea and Mark Kibble (who arranged the piece). Revisiting the piece halfway through the album with Kibble’s full-band arrangement seems unnecessary, particularly given her usual-suspects repertoire.
Jégou is at her best at the extremes, swinging with confidence when backed by the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, particularly on John Clayton’s arrangement of “Just Squeeze Me.” She’s equally effective on orchestral ballads, particularly a bossa-becalmed “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” and an Italian-language rendition of “Estate” featuring ace guitarist Larry Koonse, both arranged by Jorge Calandrelli. The same arranger also serves Jégou well on Johnny Mandel and Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s bittersweet ode to divorce, “Where Do You Start?” With so much to like about Jégou, If It Ain’t Love presents its own query. She’s spread her wings on her first two albums. Is she ready for a deeper dive?