From early childhood in Maine, Vicki Burns wanted to be a singer. She studied music at the University of New Hampshire, then moved to California to study improvised music at San José State University. After graduation, she sang in Bay Area clubs, at concerts, recorded two albums, Siren Song (2005) and Live At Anna’s Jazz Island (2008), and also began teaching. Since returning to the East Coast, she has been active as both performer and teacher.
Burns has a warm and confident vocal sound and she interprets lyrics with understanding. Intimate on ballads, she imbues bouncier songs with controlled energy.
Although a few standards are included here, the selection of compositions by instrumentalists of the post-bop years among the songs she sings make clear that Burns is very comfortable in the jazz world. These songs are by Thelonious Monk (Well You Needn’t, lyrics by Mike Ferro), Lee Morgan (The Sidewinder, lyrics by Mary Ellen Donald), Sam Jones (Del Sasser, lyrics by Donald Wolf) and John Coltrane (Equinox, lyrics by Chris Caswell). Also heard are two of Billy Strayhorn’s compositions, Lotus Blossom Days, with lyrics by Roger Schore and Carol Sloane, and Bittersweet, lyrics by Schore.
On the two original songs Burns has composed, Love Spell and Siren Song, the lyrics and her delivery are intelligent and eloquent storytelling. There is also You Don’t Have To Believe, by British jazz singer-songwriter Tessa Souter.
Scat singing is a difficult art, and one at which few singers are accomplished, but Burns has control here, too. This is especially apparent when she duets with bassist Sam Bevan on, for example, If You Never Fall In Love With Me and This Time The Dream’s On Me.
Throughout, there are good solo moments from the guest horns, while most instrumental solos come from pianist Art Hirahara, all of them in complete harmony with the overriding mood. Much to admire and enjoy here by a jazz singer who deserves to be much better known.
If You Never Fall In Love With Me (Del Sasser); Close Your Eyes; Lotus Blossom Days; Bittersweet; Watch Out (The Sidewinder); A Long Way To Go (Equinox); It’s Over Now (Well You Needn’t); You Don’t Have To Believe; This Time The Dream’s On Me; Siren Song; Out Of This World (55.26)
Burns (v); Art Hirahara (p); Sam Bevan (b, arr); Billy Drummond (d); plus guests Josh Deutsch (t); Nick Vayenas (tb); Dayna Stephens (ts, bar); Mas Koga (bar, f). NYC, January & November 2020.
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