Cecilia Stalin ‘Step Like A Giant’ (Private Press) 3/5

cecilia-stalinNow based in London, Swedish vocalist Cecilia Stalin personifies the new generation of singers who are adept at performing in the jazz idiom, but are equally at home in other black music forms such as classic soul and funk, hip-hop and nu-soul, and are interested in exploring fusions between the various genres for a younger audience that may not necessarily have been introduced to the key jazz recordings. The singer’s debut album has been showcased while touring late last year as opening act for Gregory Porter no less and her enthusiastic and engaging demeanour have certainly won over fans.
Stylistically, Cecilia Stalin seems to have listened to a variety of jazz singers from early Al Jarreau and going back even further possibly to Eddie Jefferson in the use of vocalese techniques, but in terms of female vocalists the phrasing of Dee Dee Bridgewater and Erykah Badu immediately spring to mind and Stalin’s range is wide, taking in as deep a voice as Bridgewater, or as light as that of Blossom Dearie. What is interesting about this album is rather than go down the traditional path of well-worn standards, Stalin has chosen a more experimental approach, tackling less obvious and arguably more challenging material and in the long-term this will serve her well provided she does not try to be too diverse and appeal to too disparate an audience. As the album title hints at, Stalin is interesting in revisiting some of the work of John Coltrane, but doing so by giving the pieces a more contemporary flavour. This is exemplified by the title track which features Lil’ Chif and is a mid-tempo hip-hop interpretation which works extremely well and is in direct contrast with Coltrane’s full steam ahead original. The ballad ‘My Naima’ is reworked and retitled as a hip-hop beat song with participation from Replife.

Stalin’s voice is best suited to gentler material such as on ‘Shining Star’ (not the Earth, Wind and Fire song) and on the bossa flavoured ‘Favourite things’ as well as on minor chord songs such as ‘So blue and green’ which has a dream-like ambiance and gentle drumming. Aimed squarely at the dancefloor, ‘One’ features Stalin in a lighter vein. The use of vignettes is inventive and should become a more regular feature of her recorded work and the experimentation with tempo should definitely be pursued, especially when the slowed down version of ‘[E] Quinox’ is so seductive and conjurs up echoes of Billie Holiday. The nearest Stalin gets to a more traditional stance is on ‘Afro Blue’, but even here there is a modern update with the instrumentation firmly in the 1970s Headhunters vein, especially on keyboards. What is promising is here that there are plenty of potential new avenues to work on and perfect over a series of albums. Cecilia Stalin needs to work firstly on the instrumentation which in places is a tad overproduced and then on focusing on one specific aspect of her craft and taking that as far as she can go. If she can deliver on both these fronts, then a bright future is assured.

Tim Stenhouse