Oct 16, 2014
A rising star gets her chance to shine tonight when Alicia Olatuja celebrates the release of her solo debut CD Timeless with a performance at the BRIC Ballroom in Brooklyn, New York. Ms. Olatuja and her pure, shimmering voice have been on the fringes of the music scene for the past few years. It was her voice, rising through the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, which moved so many people during President Obama’s inauguration in 2013. And her stage performances in productions on stages from The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.to Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival have garnered universally positive reviews.
The aptly named Timeless may move her into a different musical level. Backed by her core band of her husband Michael Olatuja on bass, Jon Cowherd on piano, David Rosenthal on guitar and first-call jazz drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr on percussion, she has put together a collection of songs that showcase her wonderful soprano voice. In tunes as diverse as a lively “Serrado” to a moving “In the Dark”, she gives performances that remind us what great singers sounded like before the world became infected with “American Idol” over-singing and “The Voice” over-emoting.
I hesitate to call this a “jazz album” in the classic form. There is no scatting, no unusual settings or vocal improvisation and pyrotechnics that one expects from an album by, say, Diane Reeves or Karrin Allyson. However, as with the likes of Lizz Wright and Gretchen Parlato, there is a wonderful understatement in her delivery that allows her to shine. It doesn’t hurt that she has brought in some of today’s top jazz stars for guest shots. Gregoire Maret’s harmonica gives Wonder-ish warmth to the cover of “Stay Gold”, and Christian Sands’ piano accompaniment to a moving “Over the Rainbow” gives the tune some needed stability. Best of all is a gorgeously staged duet with Christian McBride, the spare and moving “Speak the Words”. Here’s hoping her stage performance tonight allows her to continue to build musical momentum.