Laird Jackson

Touched

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Although Laird Jackson's singing settles smack in the middle of the jazz mainstream, exotic influences flavor the flow of Touched. Backed by an empathetic ensemble that bends like reeds in a river to follow her subtle adjustments, Jackson evokes the original artists when interpreting their work; her phrasing echoes Stevie Wonder's idiosyncrasies on "Visions," and while subjecting "Tin Angel" to a free and languorous treatment, Jackson harks very clearly to Joni Mitchell in her swooping glissandi and throaty lower notes. Singer and musicians achieve synchronicity on "Lonely House," whose shadowy expressionism reflects in the sound of a muffled piano note, clanking like a radiator in the dead of winter, and in Jackson's exceptional way with a difficult melody. On simpler songs, though, something eludes her; the a cappella "Yet Still" lacks the clarity that comes from interactions with her band, and her resurrection of "Catch the Wind" leans too much on style to compensate for the spare written line; more than that, it almost seems to be set in an illogical key, so that Jackson might dive and soar across her range rather than simply bring out the tune. Her own material is erratic, ranging from the sultry "Consuela Mi" to the more awkward "Towards the Sun," whose two-chord vamp seems to clash at times with the written line. Touched is, in other words, a mixed bag, on which the artist's talent is always in view but often out of focus.

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