Chain of Fools
All About Jazz Review: This is one of the times I'm grateful that this magazine doesn't have a rating system. I've never heard anything like this before (although Sokolov has two previous CDs out that were reportedly well-received), and I'm honestly not sure how I feel about it. I do know that “Presence” is terrifically innovative, with Sokolov exploring the myriad textures of her voice like a daring instrumentalist, and whether she's pure or raspy, shrill or rounded, whispery or full-throated, she's always passionate.
There are hints of Janis Joplin, moments of Marilyn Monroe's coy trilling in the deranged “You Do Something To Me,” a whiff of Maria Muldaur, some spectacular scatting, and rangey jazz vocalizing. Sokolov also plays with time and content, casting the Midwestern anthem “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” in her own bold mold. It's an experience—that much I can tell you.
The CD opens with “Presence,” with its energetic groove and Sokolov overdubbed through her driving spiritual quest (Presence everywhere/Hiding/Hiding). This is a running theme throughout—in the a cappella, gospel-ish ”Hopefully,” where she wants “the mystery [made] clearer,” and the howling “Hard Being Human,” and her dramatic reconstruction of Laura Nyro's “And When I Die.” The title track drew me in, and it's still my favorite, though I also liked the vibrant “Chain of Fools,” especially where she scats like a drummer.
The band is terrific throughout; they clearly “get” what she's doing and provide ideal support. While I found the scalding vocal on “As It Is” almost unlistenable, it was followed by a deeply-felt, often childlike “For All We Know,” with brilliant solo intro and superb accompaniment by pianist John DiMartino. The closer is a unique rendition of ”Home on the Range” (yes, that one), which, like the opener, was recorded live at the 2002 Tampere Jazz Happening in Finland.
The fact that Sokolov is also a veteran music therapist may have something to do with her rule-bending and emphasis on unbridled feeling. Occasionally jarring, often unpredictable, never boring, “Presence” is full of angst but also an original voice and approach that blasts one's expectations. I know I'll be returning to that title track.
--All About Jazz
Downbeat Review: As far removed stylistically from the reigning royalty of female jazz vocalists as John Coltrane is from Grover Washington, Lisa Sokolov fills every moment of Presence with just that. Her voice, which ranges from a guttural bottom end to a gauzy-yet-potent top, is exceptionally expressive, and her personality is so strong that it connects her disparate material as tightly as a suite.
Given the scope of the material -- from the dramatic, ecstatic "As It Is" to the playful "Home On The Range" -- and the fact that it was created in the studio and at two different live venues, this is a recording that shouldn't work nearly as well as it does. The unifying forces are Sokolov's willingness to lay herself emotionally bare on every song and her complete control over her highly compelling instrument.
Having musicians as empathetic and musical as John DiMartino, Cameron Brown and Gerry Hemingway doesn't hurt, either. As a band, they can challenge for the spotlight, as they do when they charge through the extended vamp of "Hard Being Human" or fall back to provide subtle, high-tensile support.
As Sokolov shows on an unaccompanied "Hopefully," a tour de force that takes her through her entire range and puts her gospel roots on display, she doesn't need a band to carry the show. She has a masterful control of tension and release -- witness the roller coaster rides she takes listeners on in a highly stylized "Chain Of Fools" and a stunning, life-affirming reworking of Laura Nyro's "And When I Die." This is jazz vocalizing filled with passion and commitment. -- ***** (masterpiece)