Rubicon Jazz RJZ1000

Imogen Ryall (voice); Julian Nicholas (tenor & soprano saxophones, penny whistle); David Beebee (piano); Nigel Thomas (double bass); Eric Ford (drums & percussion)

Recorded 22-25 January 2023

There has been a plethora of vocal albums released this year. Many of them are very good and some are excellent, and this new release from Imogen Ryall falls right into the latter category.

Living and working predominantly on the South Coast of England, Ryall may not be as well-known as some of her contemporaries, and that is a crime.

A regular performer around the London area, she has developed a unique voice and is at home in many settings from her role with the Anöna Trio (with Julian Nicholas and pianist Mark Edwards), along with the Jack Kendon Quintet and larger ensembles such as Mark Edwards’s band Cloggz and Terry Pack’s Trees.

A versatile musician she is at home singing jazz standards or improvising wordlessly, she is an excellent scat singer incidentally, and her range and means of communicating the meaning of a lyric exemplary.

The album that she draws her influences and repertoire from, Mingus by Joni Mitchell . An album that was made in collaboration with the bassist, with the recording session beginning just prior to his passing in January 1979.  Mitchell carried on to finish the album shortly after.

With the original acquiring cult status among collectors, recording some of this material again, and approaching in a contemporary jazz setting may seem a risky if not foolhardy endeavour, but Ryall and the exceptional musicians she works with have produced a magnificent album.

The tunes have been tastefully rearranged and have given the music a polish ready for a new audience. That they have done so while still retaining the spirit and passion of the original composition is no mean feat. The emphasis on medium or slow tempos, and this allows Ryall to really get into the song and the lyric delivering both with poise and feeling.

‘A Chair In The Sky’ features Ryall’s voice to stunning effect, and the rhythm section are right behind her helping lift the music to another plane. The other ‘voice’ heard here is that of Julian Nicholas and his soprano saxophone is the perfect foil for the vocalist.

This is also true of ‘Sweet Sucker Dance’ with an exquisite vocal from Ryall and another perfectly paced contribution from the saxophonist, this time on tenor. The arrangement also cleverly incorporates a gentle swing section before returning to the ballad tempo.

From an abstract opening, ‘The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey’, the rhythm section settles things down before Imogen with an intensely poignant delivery of the lyric with another beautiful contribution for Nicholas on soprano.

Talking of the saxophonist, his tenor introduction to ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ nearly hijacks the tune before Imogen once again steps in and totally owns the song, which in fairness she has down throughout the album.

If her remarkable vocal performance was not enough, Ryall also demonstrates her prowess as a lyricist contributing the words to two Mingus compositions, ‘Duke’s Choice’ and ‘Self-Portrait In Three Colors’, with this tune featuring another standout tenor solo from Julian Nicholas and a lovely bass solo from Nigel Thomas.

Listening again today to Joni Mitchell’s Mingus from 1979 the rough edges are clear to hear. What is unmistakable though is the quality of the compositions, and the passion and conviction in which the music is delivered.

In revisiting and recasting this music, Imogen Ryall has succeeded in keeping the spirit and passion inherent in this extraordinary album, while bringing something very personal to bear.