Accomplished singer and Harlem native Vivian Sessoms, in the company of some of the world’s finest musicians, stakes a claim to a sound all her own on her new album LIFE. Having earned her stripes as a performer with Ryuichi Sakamoto, P. Diddy, Michael Jackson, Cher, Donna Summer and many others, Sessoms and co-producer/creative partner Chris Parks bring her vast array of experiences to bear on an inspired, jazz-influenced set that proves Sessoms a fiery, forward-thinking artist in her own right.
Across the board, arranging is one of LIFE’s key strengths. Sessoms, with her unerring pitch and dynamism, conjures captivating moods and melodic departures on every song, and in ways that couldn’t suit the music better. These elements sum up so much of what is special about LIFE in its risk-taking and endlessly resourceful spirit.
Political consciousness is never far from the surface on LIFE, certainly in Sessoms’ searing rendition of “Strange Fruit,” the anti-lynching poem-turned-song made famous by Billie Holiday. The theme is present also on The Stylistics’ brooding R&B masterpiece “People Make the World Go Around,” arranged by Ray Angry. And on the album’s first single, the ultra-funky “See Line Woman” (mainly associated with Nina Simone), we hear tenor sax great Donny McCaslin (of David Bowie’s Blackstar band and the Maria Schneider Orchestra) rising up with tremendous power and characteristic grace. Other tracks feature the celebrated harpist Brandee Younger, trumpeters Keyon Harrold and Kenyatta Beasley, trombonist Vincent Gardner and more.
“Although this project started out as a jazz record,” Sessoms recalls, “there was a lot happening here in the U.S. and in the world, and that really started to influence my choice of songs, which I think pulled the record in a direction that was more socially aware.” Whether she’s recasting material by Billy Strayhorn, The Stylistics, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone or Cole Porter, Sessoms is consistently powerful and very much at home within these finely crafted and surprising arrangements. The acoustic and electric blend, the expansive harmonic concept of keyboardist Shedrick Mitchell, the flowing grooves anchored by drummer Donald Edwards (among others), the subtle electronic touches and atmospherics of the numerous interludes: it all coheres to make LIFE something confident and unique, a definitive statement.
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