Adventurous musician Jessica Lurie gets vocal about her new recording
Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Jessica Lurie plays the way she talks. Or maybe it's the other way around. In conversation, her ideas loop around a subject, approaching it from several complementary angles in rapid succession. And on her new album, Shop of Wild Dreams, her melodies and saxophone solos unfurl in skirling arcs, wending within the ensemble sound rather than floating atop it, like a silk ribbon being pulled along the bed of a quickly moving stream.
The Jessica Lurie Ensemble combines tunes that clearly hail from a jazz mindset with others that are less easy to categorize. Half the new album actually showcases the Brooklyn-based Seattle transplant's vocals.
"When you bring the human voice in, people can latch on to it," asserts Lurie, who plays tenor and alto saxophones, flute, accordion and baritone ukelele on the recording. "I feel like people understand my music better in some way. Or it's like the vocals prepare them to listen to other things in my set."
With a tone that resides somewhere between Norah Jones and Gillian Welch, Lurie's vocal delivery is gentle, nearly diffident, but genuinely swings. "I Don't Care If I Don't Care," the second track on Shop of Wild Dreams, is almost a duet between her voice and Allison Miller's drumming, which is simultaneously funky and melodic.
"I prefer to look at jazz as a very non-static form that's changing as the world becomes smaller and there are all these influences from all over the place," Lurie says. "If you wanna have jazz stop at 1952, post-bop, or say, 'As soon as Coltrane died [in 1967], that's it,' then it's hard for a lot of musicians today. Because I think a lot of players are coming from the jazz idiom and using it as a way to launch into other things. My new record has a bunch of jazz elements, but it's got Eastern European stuff and Afro-Cuban stuff. And while you can definitely put me in a jazz club, I can go into the jam-band festivals, too."
Indeed she can. Lurie's band on Shop of Wild Dreams - a working group when she's in town - features electric guitarist Brandon Seabrook, keyboardist Erik Deutsch, bassist and album co-producer Todd Sickafoose and drummer Miller. The ensemble shifts among funk, jazz, folk (Seabrook plunks banjo on a few tracks) and ethnic melodies reminiscent of klezmer-jazz and Balkan-jazz hybrids by artists like Steve Bernstein. They also employ the winding, angular grooves of Tim Berne.
"A lot of melodies that I create are in some ways a folk approach," Lurie notes. "I like melodies that can go on that longer road. It's like a song you're singing that doesn't have to be square. There's no reason for it to fall into some prescribed building-block [pattern]. You can let it wander where it needs to go and it'll bring you back to the top of the hill."
Lurie's hat-tip to the jam-band scene seems sincere; her jazz-funk trio, the Living Daylights, crossed her over to audiences at large outdoor festivals - a zone where many jazz players have found welcoming ears of late. "We toured around the country for 10 years," Lurie says of the Daylights, who emerged from Seattle in the 1990s. "And within that category of 'jam band,' whatever that means, there's a lot of players like Charlie Hunter and Karl Denson, who's [recorded for] Blue Note but also plays with Lenny Kravitz. There's a fair amount of jazz players that got swept up in that scene. One thing I've definitely noticed about the jam-band scene is that it's a bunch that really gets on the Internet and starts talking about players. There's an interested population, even if they're not into jazz music per se."