If you were to judge Sara Gazareks music by the cover photo of her new CD, Return to You, youd probably guess shes 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 Gazareks pianist, Josh Nelson, and a canny selection of covers. Gazareks 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. Its 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. Nelsons tunes give Gazarek the opportunity to show some playfulness with time, and Nelsons chord changes offer her the chance to play with the melodies hes written. But she doesnt 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 McCartneys "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 isnt really jazz, but its winning and sincere.
Gazareks reading of Billy Joels "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.
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