The profusion of exceptional jazz singers who’ve come into their own since 2010 shouldn’t obscure the stellar vocalists who emerged in the 21st century’s first decade. For the most part their rise hasn’t been as dramatic as the Salvant-Swiftians, but creative growth in jazz is a long game, and Sara Gazarek is playing to win. A standout talent as a teenager in Seattle, she’s lived in Los Angeles since 2000, building a sterling reputation with her keen intelligence and bright, clear, fine-grained tone.
Impressive on every level, her self-produced album Thirsty Ghost distills everything appealing about Gazarek into an intense and heady brew. It’s a major work that’s less concerned about making a jazz statement than delving into treacherous emotional terrain. She co-arranged many of the tracks with Stu Mindeman, who plays piano and Rhodes on the majority of the songs (Josh Johnson, Larry Goldings, Alex Boneham, and Geoff Keezer also contribute arrangements). Each piece features bespoke instrumentation, and what’s consistently enthralling about the album is the way Gazarek sets the songs in conversation with each other, creating an evolving dialectic about loneliness and desire, self-deception, and hard-won self-knowledge.