Monday, February 9, 2009

Luba Mason’s Krazy Love

I have one jazz album on my shelf of 300+ CDs, and that is my recently received copy of Luba Mason’s Krazy Love. And I can’t help but wonder . . . Do you have to know something about jazz in order to comment on a jazz album?

Luba Mason was a Broadway star of the 1990s, appearing in such shows as How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Jekyll and Hyde, The Capeman, and Chicago. Now married to Latin music star Ruben Blades, Mason has spent a number of years away from the Broadway spotlight, and she finally returns, not in an album of Broadway standards but in Krazy Love, a Brazil-flavored jazz album featuring eight tracks written or co-written by Mason herself (and two additional tracks, including one duet with Blades).

As discussed previously, my favorite solo albums are those in which Broadway stars do what Broadway stars do best, interpreting Broadway songs as if they were singing the songs on stage. That doesn’t prevent Broadway names (like Adam Pascal, Idina Menzel, and Alice Ripley) from doing silly things like branching off in other genres and expressing themselves in other artistic forms. For the Broadway fan, the core of any Broadway star’s fan base, this can be a hard pill to swallow. While many Broadway fans appreciate a variety of music styles, it’s hard to accept a solo album by Heather Headley when all you want to do is hear her belt out a favorite from Aida, not whisper through an over-produced R&B ditty.

So what is a Broadway Mouth to do with Brazil-flavored jazz?

Best news of all is that Mason is in fine vocal form on Krazy Love. True to the genre, she isn’t belting out anything or singing with a lyric soprano, but her cool, subdued jazz vocal stylings are a natural fit for her very versatile voice, never seeming forced or whispered. With great ease, she caresses, embraces, and seduces with the lyrics, allowing us to forget that she has the vocal chops to perform roles like Lucy Harris from Jekyll and Hyde.

Lyrically, Mason’s songs sometimes dwell in abstraction. In the title song, for example, she sings of a powerful love that has disappeared; however, instead of painting any concrete details, we are told about “poison no longer flowing through my veins” and “No longer swimming / With the falling stars”. At the same time, the melody of the song, combined with the depth of Mason’s voice, creates an atmosphere that allows the lyrics to melt into the distance. What remains is the impression of the song, the fragrance of an emotion set to a pretty jazz melody.

Where the album excels is in the convergence of Mason’s voice and the jazz melodies. In the second of the ten tracks, “From Me to You,” we are given a sultry Mason longing after an untrustworthy man who has moved on to another woman, the Latin beat celebrating both the passion and the loss. In “Gorgeous Fool,” she flirtatiously sings to her gorgeous fool, a man whose rich inner beauty overcomes his outward flaws. And perhaps the best song is “Lovely,” and it excels because of this convergence. Mason caresses, her lovely voice on a jaunt with the lyrics, the Latin rhythms dancing behind her as she sings of her romantic daydreams outside a launderette. It’s a lovely and charming song, and while the lyrics don’t fully connect (her husband comes in at the end, but there is not clear connection between the hero who “who appears wearing tight faded jeans” and her husband who “boats of me as his beautiful queen”), everything else about the song allows you to get lost in its charms.

The album, however, is not without a few weak links. “A Summer Night” is one of those songs so slow and intentionally soothing that it’s almost background music, and “Olhos nos Olhos,” the only track without any English lyrics, fails to register because of its lack of rooting in English, leaving the listener to focus almost entirely on the department store melody/arrangement.

Someone who is totally opposed to jazz or has no interest in music outside Broadway will not find Krazy Love to be too enlightening; however, Mason sets forth with a solo album with great beauty and charm, and for those fans who enjoy music of many different styles, Mason’s CD just might be a tempting divergence. I know I’ll be listening to it again.

the Broadway Mouth
February 9, 2009

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