I confess I have a particular weakness for female vocalists with low voices. It’s as if they are saying to a world that is enamored with high notes and prepubescent timbers, “tough shit.” And with a shrug of the shoulder and a gleam in the eye, they pull and tug at your groin with those low notes, rumble the rafters, and take you to places that only seem to exist in acid-washed film noir and lurid pulp novels. Pasheen is such a creature on her most recent jazz CD The Big Purr (it is tempting to suggest that the CD’s title is all about those low notes, but that’s awfully easy), and one suspects that she is clearly aware of the inevitable comparisons to sultry contraltos like Julie London, and so puts it right out there, as she does on the opening cut, So High, as if to say, “well, there’s Julie…and then there’s me.” Pasheen makes it clear that she won’t stand in anyone’s shadow, and then proceeds to blast the genre altogether with lyrics that are as playful and mischievous as they are seductive and alluring.
From the first sound one hears (the crackling of an old LP – remember those?) we are placed frankly and unapologetically in a world that could never be inhabited by the teeny-boppers who command the world’s current stage. There is wicked in every fiber of Pasheen’s voice. She is creating her world, song after song, layer after layer, paint stroke upon paint stroke, and welcoming us in, but with a “beware” sign. It’s an underground world. A world that moves at a stroll’s pace. A world of shadows and seduction. A world that almost doesn’t belong in today, but somehow equally in an era bygone and a tomorrow that waits patiently (read timelessly) until the bubble-gummers burn themselves out.
And then there’s that voice! It is textured and haunting, a lesson in the mastery of phrasing, a history rich with tales and battle scars and luscious liquored flavorings, always in impeccable control, if at moments purposely letting loose grace notes both feral and unrestrained, and with the fattest, sexiest vibrato I think I’ve ever heard. Most importantly, at least to this listener, the voice is rife with poignancy and pathos. And every bit of it works.
Pasheen seems happiest (in a lyric) when letting us know that she knows her environment, her fellow jazz players, the luminaries in the genre; and that while she most definitely celebrates them, she also takes her rightful place in the pantheon. Oh believe me, she belongs.
She has fun on cuts like Busy Man (“being a type-A over-achiever myself, I realize that I could end up in a 24-step program”). It’s a lyric that makes one chuckle, while all the time knowing full well that this Big Purr of a singer moves at a Type-A pace for NO ONE, but vamps by, daring you to come along. And so she creates contradictions that serve to remind us just how complex we human beings really are.
There is an underlying sadness in Vanity, a song about cosmetic surgery. What’s most compelling about this cut is Pasheen’s unwillingness to pick a side on the subject, but instead giving us a startling portrait of modern life’s arguably most pathological preoccupation, and that she even dares to broach such an internal-conflict topic within the jazz environment, a neighborhood, from a lyrical standpoint, that has usually been relegated to weepy love songs, clever Porter-esque turns of phrase, and comedic sexual innuendo. She dares to complicate the idiom.
If I seem to be harping a whole lot on lyric, it’s probably because I’m a vocalist too, and lyric means everything to us. But never for a minute think that the rest of the package is an afterthought. Strong melodic writing and a sophisticated harmonic environment puts these songs (more than half of which Pasheen composed or co-composed) squarely in a league with the most timeless of them.
Trumpeter Carl Saunders’ scatting, on his composition You’re So Cute, had me laughing in the jolliest way from pure joy at the fun he is obviously having, a trick that belongs exclusively and exuberantly to the jazz genre, and yet few do it well. I get the feeling this may be signature for Mr. Saunders, as he is given complete carte blanche on this cut, with Pasheen respectfully giving her colleague the floor. Takes balls to give the floor in that way, when it’s your album. But then Pasheen has a pair on her that, I dare say, rivals any of her male counterparts.
As evidenced in her tome to Billy Tipton. Her heart is practically breaking on the wonderfully odd and iconic song Cross Dress, leading us to consider a world so intolerant that it demands the Big Lie. It is equal parts shame-on-us reprimand and loving tribute to the many whose lives were relegated to the fringes. It is melancholic without ever moving into the territory of dirge-y sadness.
My favorite cut has to be the finale track, The Truth, composed by the Diva, herself, which paints a landscape of the Seek, the Search, the Path, and which suggests that this radiant singer has depth to spare, yet she keeps it light and fun: “Maybe god is a goddess in a strapless dress.” Frankly, I’m envisioning that goddess with shocking platinum hair.
She has the best of the best as her production and performance team: Co-producer Barry Coffing and engineer Talley Sherwood to start with, and a parade of some of the business’s top session players from L.A. and Houston, including celebrated woodwind player Bob Sheppard, who offers gorgeous warm-toned tenor solos on most of the tracks, and who, all, help to make every track strong and tight. Straight-ahead swing, crisp bossas, and ECM-esque rhythms create the bed for this body of work to lie on.
Pasheen straddles playfulness and pathos with equal aplomb on this recording of twelve stellar cuts, and celebrates the genre of jazz in such a unique Pasheen-only way, that one gets the feeling she loves rocking the boat of the comfortable, and shaking up folks’ worlds, all for the sake of a powerful musical moment.
Her liner notes include thank-you’s to animal rescuers and to our soldiers, which gives a clue into the passion and compassion at work in this beautiful songstress’ heart. But you won’t have had to read about it in the liner notes to feel it with every note sung.
You’ll find you need to hear The Big Purr again and again just to catch every finely layered nuance. It was a joy for this listener. Congratulations Diva!
And as always:
Create – even if you’re not an artist
Support artists – especially the independents
Live well – doesn’t take money to do it
And be whole
Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.