For a fresh face in jazz, vocalist Lauren Meccia certainly has a lot to say. She drapes herself all over 12 full-blown jazz standards in her new album, Inside Your Eyes.
Together with classically trained, Nicaraguan pianist Donald Vega, bassist first class Mike Frost, and sterling guest musicians, including cellist Ryan Knott, violinist Sarah Land, and percussionists Edwin Hamilton and John Miceli, the new, January 6, 2015 release offers a fresh take on standard jazz classics.
Not only is Meccia a luminous, honest vocalist, composer, and educator, but she handles sax as well as the next featured sideman on this record. Her voice, however, is the stand-out here.
The press on Meccia compares her to Norah Jones, Eva Cassidy, and even Ella Fitzgerald. But her vocals are too special to compare to anyone else. This young, bright star starts off her songs with a deep, lusty growl, as if challenging anyone to doubt her prowess and total lyrical domination.
Right from that start, she controls the full throttle, the steady movement, and the wind-up, whether it’s Jobim’s “One Note Samba,” “The Wizard Of Oz’s” “Over The Rainbow,” or Burt Bacharach/Hal David’s “What The World Needs Now.”
The emotional depth of that understanding is a little more elusive in her tender, loving care. On the original composition “If You Can Fly” by lyricist Meccia and musician Donald Vega, she’s a little more revealing in how she feels about the song. Her sensitive vulnerability as she literally falls in love with the sentiment each set of lyrics brings, while she’s singing, is a refreshing departure from the usual jaded approach of a veteran who’s seen too many after-hours clubs.
“If You Can Fly” and the title track — both sturdy originals — show off Meccia’s ability around compelling lyrics that favor her dulcet, wordless tones that tend to, well, rise and rise and rise, until her vocals are flying. That, coupled with Vega’s resplendent designer gown of a piano covering, raise this little album into one worth listening to.
The two of them are such a joy to listen to together, which can be rare in jazz circles. Traditionally, jazz musicians tend to put vocalists through their paces, demanding perfection before entry into the private club of acceptance. Vega and Meccia — perhaps because she’s automatically in the club as a good saxophonist who can hold her own — work well together, serving the totality of the lyrical music over any old fashioned notions of singers in their place.
When Vega goes on an instrumental toss and turn, you can almost picture Meccia closing her eyes and leaning back, enjoying the sonic view. And when it’s Meccia’s turn, Vega compliments her rise and fall as enthusiastically as a lover.
Lest anyone assume Inside Your Eyes is a puff piece for the beautiful, or — as Meccia sings in “One Note Samba,” “There's so many people who can talk and talk and talk and just say nothing” — this isn’t that kind of album.
Just check out the burning first track.
Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly” opens with Vega on piano going wild, threatening to flame out spectacularly, while Meccia calmly hums through the frenzy like a boss for a contrast that matters.