By Marilyn Lester
Chicago-based singer, Josie Falbo, cannot only make you believe in Spring, but in the power of music to uplift, heal and otherwise provide a mountain of pleasure. The diva has been singing since childhood and her skills are well-honed. She has a multi-range voice and owing to her natural abilities and her experience of being a much-favored studio singer, she excels in any number of musical genres. Her latest CD, the hot-off-the-press You Must Believe in Spring features Falbo in jazz mode, a style that suits her down to the ground. Her voice is light and airy but doesn’t lack for gravitas. Falbo is powerfully in command of her abilities and her sheer love of her craft comes through loud and clear.
The thirteen tracks of You Must Believe in Spring are an assemblage of her favorite tunes––songbook standards from the somewhat esoteric to the very well known. It’s a terrific collection. A “selling point” of the CD is that it features a 50-piece orchestra. There are plusses and minuses to this. Many vocalists thrill at the prospect of working on such a grand scale, but it doesn’t always suit the material. And, of course, arrangements are everything. Jazz is not usually sung with big orchestras. The classic swing bands of the 1930s and 40s generally had from 18-20 or so musicians. The preferred configuration for jazz singers is generally small groups, and with good reason: jazz singing is a unique, personal instrumental approach to vocalizing. Large orchestras are better suited to concert artists who sing in a far broader style.
Consequently, Carey Deadman’s arranging for the full orchestra has a 1950s sound that doesn’t really ring true as jazz, even though he does put the emphases on his traditional jazz players who do the heavy lifting in accompanying Falbo. The most successful of the orchestral arrangements is a pleasant version of Rogers and Hart’s “Manhattan.” Two unfortunate misfires are with two of the most brilliant arrangers (and composers) of the jazz world: Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. Billy Strayhorn’s sophisticated and exquisite “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” is way too over-produced, with Falbo scatting excessively and unnecessarily. High marks, though, go to the diva for selecting one of Duke Ellington’s lesser-known works, “Heaven” from the Second Sacred Music Concert, a number most associated with the dazzling Swedish jazz soprano, Alice Babs. Yes, it is mostly unfair to make comparisons, but anyone who’s familiar with Ellington’s sheerly magnificent 1966 arrangement of this piece with Babs will only too painfully realize the shortcomings of this version.
By and large, though, most of the album’s tracks are solid and enjoyable. A highlight is Dizzy Gillespie’s 1941 bebop standard, “A Night in Tunisia” (aka “Interlude”) with lyrics by Sarah Vaughan. This tongue twister isn’t easy to navigate to say the least, but Falbo handles the Afro-Caribbean rhythm with ease, delivering perfect phrasing and accomplished scat. Another bop-influenced tune is “Devil May Care” (Bob Dorough, Terrell Kirk) arranged in purely jazz style. This interpretation of the standard is a huge win. If only more of You Must Believe in Spring was executed with this level of understanding and clarity of purpose, the entire CD would have been pretty much flawless.
Falbo is facile with languages and two bossa nova-based pieces are divine. In Italian, “Estate” (Bruno Martino), made famous by Brazilian singer Joao Gilberto, begins with a delightful guitar introduction. The album closer, in Portuguese, “Tristeza” (Haroldo Lobo, Niltinho) true to its meaning, “goodbye sadness,” is complete with backup singers, making well-considered use of the full orchestra in an energetic, joyous arrangement. The tune is the perfect choice to end a CD that’s stocked with much enjoyment. The many musicians on You Must Believe in Spring are all among Chicago’s most accomplished. Anchoring each of the 13 tracks is the piano of the very talented Jeremy Kahn.
You Must Believe in Spring is on the Southport Records label, available on most streaming services, as well as where CDs are sold.