Saturday, February 17, 2018

Nicole Saphos: “Buzz & Bloom” (2018) CD Review

Nicole Saphos is a talented jazz vocalist, composer and bass player, based in Washington, D.C. In 2016, she released her debut full-length CD, Tiptoe. She is now following that up with Buzz & Bloom, an excellent EP featuring all original material. The music here is an interesting mix of jazz and pop and rock other elements, all driven by Nicole’s distinct voice. The trio is made up of Nicole Saphos on bass and vocals, John Lee on guitar, and Ele Rubenstein on drums.

The EP opens with “Phony Flowers,” a quirky, delightful song powered by Nicole’s unusual and endearing voice, and her interesting phrasing. This track features a strong rhythm, and nice work on guitar, particularly during the instrumental section. That section becomes a good jam, then suddenly gives way to the next vocal section and its lighter vibe. That’s followed by “Desert Island Song,” which begins with just bass. This one too has an unusual rhythm, particularly in the vocal line, which draws me in. I am captivated by her voice, and I love the use of backing vocals on this track (which I believe are also performed by Nicole – my copy of the CD contains no liner notes, so I can’t be certain). Those backing vocals are beautiful. This is a song that I love more each time I listen to it. “Soon everything will be just fine/Upon my desert island/We’ll have no worries or cares/Yes, we will be living high/Upon my desert island/’Til something spoils the air.” This one also has a good jam, with more cool stuff on guitar. This track fades out at the end during another good jam, and I’m curious where that jam would have gone. I need to see this trio perform live at some point.

“My Old Tune” has a quieter, mellower feel, with a classic, old-time vibe and sound in the vocals, fitting with the song’s title. “To my one and only tried and true/Oh, my old tune.” This track features some impressive work on guitar. “Spin Of The Wheel, Tick Of The Wind” makes excellent use of backing vocals to offset the unusual main vocal line, creating a strong contrast. I also dig the loose rhythm of this track. “Mirror, mirror on my wall/Won’t you show me something to make sense of it all/’Cause I’m moving in circles, I’m chasing my tail/Endlessly searching, but to no avail.” Then drums kick off “Train To Caen,” the kind of rhythm that could easily lead to a big band tune. The bass then comes in, and it sounds very cool. Then when the song really kicks in, it comes as something of a surprise. I wasn’t expecting the direction it took. But, of course, this entire disc has a wonderfully different approach, the music having its own sensibilities and structure. This song turns out to be a delightful love song. “I would get stuck anywhere with you/There’s no one I’d rather stick to.” There is a great section of just bass and drums to conclude this tune. “Train To Caen” is followed by “Buzz & Bloom,” the CD’s title track, the drum work at times reminding me of Princess Frank’s work with Holland Greco. The EP then concludes with a reprise of “My Old Tune.” But it is actually quite a different approach to the song, with a different rhythm and pace, and more of a country style to the guitar playing.

CD Track List
  1. Phony Flowers
  2. Desert Island Song
  3. My Old Tune
  4. Spin Of The Wheel, Tick Of The Wind
  5. Train To Caen
  6. Buzz & Bloom
  7. My Old Tune (Reprise) 
Buzz & Bloom is scheduled to be released on CD on March 30, 2018 through Local Woman Records. It will also get a vinyl release on May 4th.

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