Laika Fatien

Misery: A Tribute to Billie Holiday

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Laika Fatien sings English lyrics on songs popularized or dedicated to Billie Holiday, which is unusual for a woman born in Paris of a Spanish-Moroccan mother and a father from the Ivory Coast, and raised Jewish. There's little affectation in her phrasing that suggests her heritage, while diction and hard accents on certain syllables are unmistakable. Her pliant voice is rendered fairly straightforward in a limited range, sometimes echoing Carmen McRae, and as she describes it, is executed in a expressionistic way rather than utilizing theatrics and showy gimmicks. Jazz listeners will be familiar with her impressive bandmates, especially rising star pianist Robert Glasper, whose obvious over the top talent can easily upstage the singer, and at times does. Bassist Darryl Hall and drummer Gregory Hutchinson are more than able accompanists, while European saxophonist David El Malek -- a disciple of Michael Brecker -- adds a certain earthiness to the proceedings. There are only a few famous tunes from Holiday's repertoire, and three selections in duet with the vocalist and a single select group member. The dour "Don't Explain" represents the kind of restraint that is the strong suit of Meredith D'Ambrosio, and Glasper follows suit, while James P. Johnson's "You Can't Lose a Broken Heart" is completely reworked and modernized, with the full quintet energized in a 7/8 time signature, buoyed by El Malek's Brecker-like tenor sax and Fatien's precise and overt enunciation, which are also slightly revealing. There's a fondness for Tony Scott's tunes about Holiday, as "Lady's Back in Town" is a cute and sexy blues swing where Fatien wrote the original lyrics, but it's out of her range and is a bit flat. The title selection is also Scott's, a perfectly blues chilled ballad that has the singer plus her skilled rhythm section coalescing like tasty day old gazpacho. Standards like "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Lover Come Back to Me," and "You Turned the Tables on Me" comprise the meat and potatoes of the program, ranging from pure song form and easy swing, an unusual swirling circular mode courtesy of Glasper, and funky playful discourse with a tango reference respectively. Of the duets, Glasper goes nuts on the intro of "Strange Fruit," El Malek is warm and tender in careful call and response during "What's New?," and the rhythmically free take of "All of You," with the singer aside the rumbling drumming of Hutchinson, is arresting above all the other tracks. This is a polished effort from Laika Fatien, loaded with startling musicianship and carrying enough innovation to make you listen twice.

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