San Francisco has seen some fabulous jazz vocalists roll through town in recent weeks, Karyn Allison, Rondi Charleston and Ann Dyer to name but a few. I'm happy to add Lisa Engelken's name to that esteemed list with her latest effort, "Little Warrior", which will be available on October 1st.
Engelken builds on the success of her previous and critically acclaimed album "Caravan", with a musical journey that takes the listener to places as far away as Italy and Brazil, conjures the melodies of Wayne Shorter, or pays homage to works of Joni Mitchell and her jazz albums with the late bassist Jaco Pastorius. However Engelken never imitates, and adds her own unique and fresh arrangements, making "Little Warrior" a another gem in her ever growing and sparkling catalogue.
"Little Warrior" begins with the tune "Foggy Bottom", perhaps with a nod to the old One Step Down, a bygone jazz club in Washington, D.C. (Engelken's former stomping grounds), and once home to the late, great singer Shirley Horn who regularly performed there; a beautiful tune with Hammond organ, trumpet and a funky groove that made me want to dance on Pennsylvania Avenue again.
"Viva la Felicita", is one of my personal favorites; an absolutely gorgeous song that reminded me a bit of both the Brazilian singer Flora Purim and the horns of the group Chicago at their grooving best. Songs like "You Wear Those Eyes"and "Throw It All Away" are also great examples of not just Engelken's vocal talents; her deft arrangements and use of horns and organ were equally wonderful and full; a perfect blend of beauty, elegance and power.
The title cut "Little Warrior" continued to pleasantly surprise me, with drummer Matt Swindells propelling the horn section to new heights; the hilarious and mischievous "Housemate from Hell" and the fabulous trumpet work, piano and drumming on "Sea Journey", finds Engelken "letting her hair down" and the band in full swing.
"Undertow" features Engelken's lyrics over the classic Wayne Shorter tune "Nefertiti", one of my all-time jazz favorites. Like her treatment of Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay" on her previous album, (yet another favorite!), Engelken doesn't disappoint, and I absolutely loved her arrangements and rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire".
Engelken closes the album with the balladic "Blue Valentines", and the lovely little "All I Do is Dream of You", featuring some very tasty brush work by Swindells, who continues to support Engelken's music in a fashion most admirable.
"Little Warrior" is perhaps Engelken's best effort to date, and her prowess as both a fantastic jazz singer, as well as an accomplished arranger and composer can no longer be denied, if it ever was.
Bravaccio Piccolo Guerriero!
E. "Doc" Smith is a musician and recording artist with Edgetone Records, who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Koko Taylor, Gladys Knight and many others. He is also the Arts & Entertainment editor for Beyond Chron and inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick.