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Zara McFarlane’s fifth album—a recording that actually fits the vogueish description “project”—represents a marked change of focus for the singer, from London to New York City and points west. Closely associated with London’s radical underground jazz scene, McFarlane has previously peopled her touring and recording bands with fellow adventurers such

Shabaka Hutchings

” data-original-title title>Shabaka Hutchings,

Shirley Tetteh

guitar, electric

” data-original-title title>Shirley Tetteh,

Idris Rahman

” data-original-title title>Idris Rahman,

” data-original-title title>Robin Hopcraft,

Nathaniel Cross

” data-original-title title>Nathaniel Cross,

Binker Golding
Binker Golding

saxophone, tenor

” data-original-title title>Binker Golding and

Moses Boyd

” data-original-title title>Moses Boyd. Significantly, too, McFarlane has also written the vast majority of the material she has recorded, with her Jamaican heritage often apparent, never more so than in the remarkable, at times surreal, Songs Of An Unknown Tongue (Brownswood, 2020), and its immediate predecessor, Arise (Brownswood, 2017).

All this changes with Sweet Whispers: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan. Not for the worse, not for the better, just changes. The album is a sumptuous tribute to

Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan

1924 – 1990

” data-original-title title>Sarah Vaughan during her 100th-anniversary year. The set list comprises eleven songs closely associated with Vaughan, and McFarlane is accompanied by a reeds and rhythm section quartet performing in classic straight-ahead style. The group was assembled by ” data-original-title title>Giacomo Smith, who co-produced and co-arranged with McFarlane. The arrangements are outstanding (check the YouTube below). Smith also plays soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet on the album.

The program includes “If You Could See Me Now,” the first song Vaughan recorded under her own leadership, in 1946, written for her by

Tadd Dameron
Tadd Dameron

1917 – 1965

” data-original-title title>Tadd Dameron and Carl Sigman. There is, too, the last song Vaughan recorded, Gilson Peranzzetta, Dori Caymmi and Tracy Mann’s “Obsession,” from Brazilian Romance (Columbia, 1987). Also included, ” data-original-title title>Marvin Gaye and James Nyx’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” which Vaughan recorded on her album A Time In My Life (Mainstream, 1971). Like McFarlane, Vaughan did not shy away from recording socially and politically inspired songs.

It is sometimes imagined that the stylists on London’s underground scene are dismissive of America’s jazz tradition. It is, of course, nonsense and Sweet Whispers demonstrates that. McFarlane makes no attempt to “recalibrate,” “reimagine,” “reconstruct” or reanything the material, though there is a nod to the Caribbean on “Obsession” with the use of steel pan. The album was recorded live to tape, with minimal overdubs, and possesses an appropriately authentic back in the day feel.


Track Listing

Tenderly; Mean To Me; Inner City Blues; September Song; Great Day; If You Could See Me Now; Interlude; Obsession; The Mystery of Man; Stardust; Sweet Whispers.


Additional Instrumentation

Giacomo Smith: soprano saxophone (1), clarinet (5), alto saxophone (7), bass clarinet (9); Marlon Hibbert: steel pan (8); Gabriella Swallow: cello (4, 11).

Album information

Title: Sweet Whispers: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan
| Year Released: 2024
| Record Label: Eternal Source Of Light


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