It's important to understand the difference between jazz singing and jazzy singing. Judy Niemack, Giacomo Gates, Kurt Elling, and Kitty Margolis are best known for straight-ahead jazz singing, whereas Erykah Badu, Anita Baker, Sade, and Norah Jones are all examples of singers who have been influenced by jazz but aren't jazz singers in the strict sense. And even though Jacques Schwarz-Bart's Rise Above has been released by a jazz label, most of this 2003-2009 recording favors jazzy vocal R&B rather than hardcore vocal jazz. Rise Above offers two different types of material: R&B vocal offerings, most of which feature former Brooklyn Funk Essentials singer Stephanie McKay, and jazz-funk instrumentals that give Schwarz-Bart a chance to stretch out on his tenor saxophone. No one will mistake "Rainbow," "Feel so Free," "Forget Regret," or "I Don't Know" for scat versions of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps"; these tunes, all of which feature McKay, fall into the R&B category. But they certainly favor the more jazz-influenced side of neo-soul, and it's hard to imagine someone who fancies Badu, Jill Scott, or N'Dea Davenport not appreciating what McKay brings to the table. Meanwhile, Schwarz-Bart's tenor takes center stage on "Busted" and "Abyss," which are among the CD's jazz-funk instrumentals; the tunes have way too much backbeat for jazz purists or bop snobs (not that these types comprise the target audience), but that doesn't mean that Schwarz-Bart doesn't improvise. Actually, he does a lot of improvising on the instrumentals, which have some Coltrane influence as well as a healthy appreciation of jazz-funksters like Joe Farrell, Eddie Harris, and Bennie Maupin. Some admirers of Schwarz-Bart's sax playing might wish that he had recorded an entirely instrumental album, but then, the way that Rise Above moves from vocal tracks to instrumentals is parts of its appeal. Although not recommended to jazz purists, Rise Above is an agreeable listen if one is in the mood for an R&B-heavy disc that sometimes detours into instrumental jazz-funk territory.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson