Joanna Pascale

When Lights Are Low

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For vocalists, the Philadelphia jazz scene can be brutally competitive. A long list of skillful singers ranging from Miss Justine, Juanita Holiday, Mary Ellen Desmond, and Denise King to Lou Lanza are based in and around Philly -- and if a young Philly-based singer is starting out, that is the caliber of talent that he or she (more often a she in the jazz vocal realm) can expect to be competing with. But Joanna Pascale -- who was only 24 when she recorded her first album, When Lights Are Low, in 2004 -- had no problem standing out on the Philly jazz scene in the early to mid-2000s and even managed to win the respect of tenor titan Bootsie Barnes (one of Philly's finest saxmen). It isn't hard to see why Pascale stood out; despite some shortcomings, this is a promising debut. In addition to having an impressive vocal range and flawless intonation, Pascale brings an abundance of feeling, warmth, and emotion to "Stardust" and other well-known standards. She not only has solid vocal chops; she has soul. Unfortunately, Pascale plays it much too safe in her choice of material; from "Easy Living" to "Come Rain or Come Shine" to "You Go to My Head," Pascale usually picks warhorses that have been beaten to death over the years. That isn't to say that they aren't great songs or that Pascale should avoid standards altogether -- only that she needs to surprise her listeners more often and develop a more adventurous repertoire. Pascale would do well to pay close attention to Claire Martin, a superb and highly imaginative British vocalist who has found the jazz potential in everyone from Tom Waits to Stevie Wonder to Milton Nascimento (in addition to having a knack for unearthing Tin Pan Alley's lesser-known gems). But despite the overabundance of warhorses, When Lights Are Low paints a generally attractive picture of Pascale and indicates that the Philadelphian is well worth keeping an eye on.

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