August 2007

Sara Gazarek - Return to You
Native Language NLM-0967-2
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

If you were to judge Sara Gazarek’s music by the cover photo of her new CD, Return to You, you’d probably guess she’s a folk singer and songwriter, but the 25-year-old was awarded the 2003 Down Beat Student Music Award for Best Collegiate Jazz Vocalist. Return to You is her second disc, and it contains a winning mixture of smart new tunes by Gazarek’s pianist, Josh Nelson, and a canny selection of covers. Gazarek’s voice is appealing and somewhat girlish, and she needs a little more time and experience for her interpretive skills to match her singing abilities, but Return to You is a solid sophomore effort. It’s also very intimately and warmly recorded.

Much of the swing on Return to You comes from Josh Nelson, bassist Erik Kertes, and drummer Matt Slocum. Nelson’s tunes give Gazarek the opportunity to show some playfulness with time, and Nelson’s chord changes offer her the chance to play with the melodies he’s written. But she doesn’t really take them. Gazarek often falls back on technique rather than giving herself over emotionally to a song. One exception is her interpretation of Paul McCartney’s "Junk." The song is a likable trifle on his first album, but Gazarek finds a lifetime of experiences in the items cataloged in the lyrics. The performance isn’t really jazz, but it’s winning and sincere.

Gazarek’s reading of Billy Joel’s "And So It Goes" is similarly affecting, and also not particularly jazzy in its approach. It may be that Gazarek's talents ultimately lie in pop singing rather than jazz, or she may simply have to give herself over to the freedom of jazz singing in order to match the accolades she has received so far.