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Vanessa Perea: Soulful Days

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At age 26, vocalist Vanessa Perea is just getting started. Prior to this debut, her recording experience spanned a total of two tracks on Australian drummer Andrew Swift’s Swift Kick from 2012, a tentative but tender “Alfie” and an accomplished take on Jimmy Heath’s “The Rio Dawn.” On Soulful Days she sounds 26, full of youthful sass, her vigor deftly enhanced by the mix of seasoned and rising players she’s surrounded by: pianist Dave Lantz, bassist Dylan Shamat, drummer Evan Sherman, trumpeter Mat Jodrell and trombonist/arranger Robert Edwards (from Swingadelic), with whom she seems to share a particularly powerful rapport.

And yet Perea also exudes a remarkable air of maturity, recalling the interpretive fearlessness of Anita O’Day. She plunges headlong into “Who Can I Turn To?,” skillfully bending notes to subtly underscore the lyric’s heartache with a hint of hysteria. As Edwards painstakingly replicates J.J. Johnson’s mid-’50s arrangement of “Too Marvelous for Words,” she responds with a slithery sexiness worthy of Sarah Vaughan (while weaving in some wickedly good scatting). She traces the one-sided romanticism of “Jim” with an astute mix of dreaminess and uncertainty, and shapes a truly stunning “Triste.” Adding her own lyrics, she serves up a bop-smart reading of Kenny Dorham’s “K.D.’s Motion” (retitled “Let Me Tell You”) and a breezily wistful re-imagining of Cedar Walton’s “Martha’s Prize” (dubbed “December Blue” here). But the capper, the killer climax, is the album’s closer, a blistering scat-romp through Bud Powell’s “Celia.”

Originally Published