As referenced in the liner notes by Andrea Pozza, it is always with a sense of trepidation as well as excitement that the first excursion into listening takes place, as therein lies the beauty of the adventure of discovering new music, artists and singers. Being taken on an unexpected journey with several potential destinations ranging from bliss to disappointment, not knowing where you’ll find yourself at journey’s end. I was therefore eager to hear Alice Testa’s debut album.
The album without doubt has a European Jazz feel to it, not unexpectedly. The band, comprising several leading players on the Italian jazz scene, supports her voice beautifully, creating shifting landscapes resonant to the tone and mood of the song without dominating. Atmospheric and immediately accessible, this isn’t challenging jazz by any means and yet there is an elegance in the apparent simplicity of the compositions and arrangements. A mix of standards, covers and originals, Alice is obviously wanting to demonstrate her breadth as an artist, rather than limiting herself to what might be expected of a new songstress. The mix works relatively well with material ranging from the immediately recognisable in songs such as ‘Pure Imagination’, ‘Skylark’ and ‘Nature Boy’ to an unexpected smoothed out version of Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ and on to the edgier original number ‘The Core’ which feels much more in keeping with current jazz trends with playful meter changes and a less customary standard feel in its approach.
For the most part the album stays true to a somewhat traditional sound, rather middle of the road with no radical departures to disquiet the listener from a Sunday afternoon sojourn say; an enjoyable, comforting encounter or background soundtrack, both appealing and palatable but perhaps lacking the indefinable magic of say relative newcomer Cécile McLorin Salvant singing similar standards.
Although pleasant with its laidback feel and accomplished instrumental solos, vocally ‘Pure Imagination’ doesn’t inspire in the way that Jacob Collier’s a cappella version does, where the emotional connection to the song is clearly apparent in his engaging performance and dramatic harmonic re-working. Much more convincing is Alice’s more inventive take on ‘Black Hole Sun’, a brave choice but one that shows her own diverse taste in music which has no doubt influenced the singer she has become.
Her tone is clear and pure, occasionally airy and light, whilst her vocal approach genuine and true to the melodic lines, staying almost rigidly ‘straight’ with little to no deviation. She demonstrates a natural sensibility to phrase well musically and has good control of her instrument showing precision in pitching and timing, however I personally missed hearing a truly undeniable emotional connection to the lyrical content of the material for the most part. Her supporting cast on the other hand – Matteo Alfonso, Lorenzo Conte, Kyle Poole, Giancarlo Bianchetti and Francesco Geminiani – delivered much more on the expressive level alongside moments of improvisational beauty, creative but always in keeping with the cohesive group sound and direction of the song. Although there are a couple of moments where Alice herself is freed from singing text using the voice more instrumentally, replicating horn lines and delivering wordless melodies, I was left wanting greater glimpses of her own improvisational ability or even just more of a sense of her own vocal personality which for me perhaps isn’t quite developed yet. Finding your own voice as a singer in jazz is no mean feat and one which remains imperative if you’re to stand apart and be instantly recognisable in your own right from the very first note uttered. This may well come on subsequent albums which I look forward to hearing as no doubt creating this debut has been an inspirational learning curve which will further inform her evolution as an artist.