Tiffany Austin ‘Nothing But Soul’ (Con Alma) 4/5

tiffany-austinHailing from North California, but for a long time off the radar when she settled in Tokyo and performed pop, gospel and jazz, vocalist Tiffany Austin comes up with an assured debut that is more like an extended EP, weighing in at around forty minutes. She displays a command of the classic American songbook, soaking up the influences of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Dee Dee Bridgewater among others, and has chosen this recording to focus primarily on the compositions of Hoagy Carmichael. The jewel in the crown here is undoubtedly ‘Baltimore Oriole’ that has received a few famous treatments (notably from Lorez Alexandria), but this compares most favourably with any of them and is an uptempo vehicle with the stripped down drum beat of Sly Randolph where Austin engages in some fine ad-libbing to mark her imprint on the standard. This writer warmed to the cohesive mixture of new approaches combined with a respect of the jazz tradition. Austin’s phrasing is impeccable and ideally showcased on quality ballads such as ‘I get along without you very well’ and ‘Stardust’ that opens the set. However, she breathers new life into ‘Skylark’, attempting it at a completely different and more upbeat tempo and a warm tenor saxophone performance from Howard Wiley that works extremely well. In fact Austin and Wiley combine on a co-written original, ‘Tête à Tête’ that augurs well for the future. The album title by the way refers to a song Betty Carter made her own during the 1960s, ‘Jazz ain’t nothing but soul’, but this is not included here. Tiffany Austin is a name to watch out for and any enterprising jazz label would do well to check her out before she is singed up by a major.

Tim Stenhouse