Laika Fatien: Look at Me Now

What an overdue breath of fresh, imported air. The Parisian-born Laika recorded this album in 2003, but she was busy singing with Claude Bolling’s orchestra, gracing other artists’ recordings and working as an actress. Laika (she prefers to use only her first name) did not allow her dramatic chops to influence her vocalizing. What you hear is a pure, honest jazz voice. No gimmicks, no false heroics. She has a beautiful instrument: clear, firm and enviably focused. She has an exotic blend of Moroccan, Ivory Coast and Spanish in her blood, but pure jazz in her soul. And she boasts impeccable intonation. How else could she sing “Love” with just drums for accompaniment? How else could she negotiate the tricky intervals of “The Best Is Yet to Come” in perfect unison with tenorist David el Malek? Speaking of that tasteful tenor player, David and Laika offer an airtight unison for Nicholas Payton’s challenging line, “Zigaboogaloo” (for which Laika wrote the lyrics). The one track that disappoints is “Eleanor Rigby”; it backfires as a dirge. The best ballads are the two Abbey Lincoln originals, “Throw It Away” and “Bird Alone.”