With her compelling new CD, Little Sunflower
, acclaimed jazz vocalist Barbara Montgomery continues an extraordinary and impassioned musical voyage of discovery toward the intrinsic connection of art and soul. Conceived as a therapeutic place, she says, to put an avalanche of emotions," her new release celebrates courage, love and compassion with the same plenitude of elegance and enchantment that has long marked her performances and recordings, thus elevating her in the past few years to the top echelon of singer-songwriters and vocal interpreters in the jazz world.
Produced by Montgomery and issued on her own recording label, Mr. Bean and Bumpy Music, Little Sunflower features nine tantalizing songs, many of them written by the songstress with her longtime pianist and co-arranger, Barry Sames, as well as covers of Freddie Hubbard and Duke Pearson tunes with Montgomery's appendant lyrics. Also, two songs, Armando's Rhumba" and You're Always in My Space," hearken back to Montgomery's previous album, Dakini Land, which paid tribute to the evocative compositions of keyboard master Chick Corea and his wordsmith Neville Potter.
Interestingly, Montgomery states that following the completion of the highly praised Dakini Land in 2001, she wasn't planning on returning to the recording studio in the foreseeable future. The muse, however, rarely pays attention to time. The horrific events of 9/11 and a series of personal losses darkened Montgomery's spirit enough to cause her to realize that it was necessary for her to create again, in order to reaffirm her outlook and bring a renewed sense of life to her audiences. I emptied my heart to try to heal it," she writes in the liner notes of Little Sunflower, adding, We are all in need of this mending, this nurturing, this restoration in the world today."
For Little Sunflower, Montgomery assembled an empathic group of musicians and let them stretch out, the result being that the songs seem to be fully and organically developed to the point of luxuriation. Indeed, five of the album's tracks are beyond the eight-minute mark. Tenor saxophonist Chris Farr and hornman John Swana provide the perfect complements to Montgomery's strong, protean singing, and their ample solo spaces are packed with smart harmonic inventions and infectious phrasings. And Sames, a sparkling pianist, not only energizes the rhythm section (where Chico Huff and Lee Smith split bass duties), he also supplies a broad, knowing accompaniment to Montgomery that allows her to confidently ride the groove.
In songs like An Illusion," which opens the album, and Web of Glass," another original, Montgomery's vocals show that she's an acute expositor of the language of power, coercion, and, ultimately, love. Whether it be with husky declarations or soaring sanctifications, Montgomery's exquisite vocal gifts and unerring attentiveness to a song's dynamics come together here on Little Sunflower, her most forceful and incisive collection of music to date. Bluesy, shrewd, seductive, gracious, sentimental--few singers around today can color a song like Barbara Montgomery.
Undoubtedly, Montgomery's eventful life, one of poignancy, determination and triumph, has helped to shape her creative vision. Born in Berkeley, California, she spent part of her childhood living in what was then South Vietnam, witnessing much of the chaos and insurrection of the war in Saigon. Later, Montgomery graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and sang in some of Philadelphia's jazz clubs while working in TV production, most notably on The Mike Douglas Show." She eventually turned to music production and worked with clients like fitness maven Richard Simmons and entertainer Sandi Patty. In the meantime, she also raised and home-schooled her son and daughter.
Little Sunflower confirms the promise of a great jazz vocalist whose career is in full blossom. No longer Philadelphia's best kept musical secret, Barbara Montgomery is poised to enthrall audiences everywhere with both art and soul.