Review by Esther Berlanga-Ryan: Paul Jost “Breaking Through”

By Esther Berlanga-Ryan

The thing about vocal jazz is that very few have actually been able to fully make themselves blend with the magnificent improvisation happening around them and with them. And of course that has only happened when the vocalist is pure improvisation as well. What does this really mean? To become, and to fully be and never cease to be, to live where the notes do not exist yet, to feel the rhythm beyond its natural course – and to guide it and shape it and offer it to the stars – and to vocalize what the soul feels just as any other given physical instrument would do. Today there is a small list of names in the male Vocal Jazz stratosphere that I would pick and consider bigger than life, and Paul Jost is at the top of such list, leading my way.

There is a certainty in his voice, a truth made universal and kept under wraps by a vocal control he delivers with the serenity of a wise man and the gentleness of a faithful lover. There are no lies in his soul, no half-kept promises, no Sunday mornings without a warm cup of tea. Jost is the very essence of Vocal Jazz today. Breaking Through (Dot Time Records, 2014) is his first all solo project, and for a versatile artist such as this – with such a deep devotion for this music – this is an album Jazz needs to hear, and feel, and know about. Because this is an album that keeps words and music in the key of Jazz alive in a world like ours, so eager to eliminate most traces of the legacy of Satchmo and Miles, Sassy and Ella. This is a necessary album, filled with beauty and perfection. This is Jazz. He is Jazz.

I only need to point out one song in this album to change your life: Bill Evans’ astonishingly beautiful “Waltz for Debby”, with lyrics by Gene Lees. You can find veracity in his voice, an almost inexplicable serenity that touches your soul and allows for the heart to spread the wings and soar the skies. There is calmness and feelings swaying at the tip of his tongue. Jazz happens nearly by the second every time he opens his mouth to sing, and he believes the words to this song talk about a kind of sentiment only parents know – and as a matter of fact, he used to sing it to his own daughter when she was small, thinking of the day she will leave the nest, all choked up and filled with fatherly love for her. You may adore other versions to this song (who doesn’t have Tony Bennett in the heart?), but if you wish to learn about the present of Vocal Jazz, you might as well let Paul Jost re-define your Universe and co-exist with all the greats who made this music a flawless reinvention of everyday emotions.

With Frank Strauss on piano, Steve Varner on bass, Dan Monaghan and Keith Hollis on drums, Mark Adler on flute, and the additional artistry of Jim Ridl on piano, Tim Lekan, Kevin MacConnell, Andy Lalasis and Bob Shomo on bass, Tony Miceli on vibes (check out The Jost Project), and the spoken word of Phyllis Chapell, other indispensable tracks on this record are:

“Singing in the rain”. Superb, innovative, perfect. The classic that made Gene Kelly forever dance and sing in the rain, re-visited and re-created with an obvious dose of admiration that does not get old. The arrangement is pure wit. Wait for Jost’ scatting, and fall in love.

“I got rhythm”. With a few notable exceptions, it has been demonstrated that if one can’t scat, one perhaps should not call him or herself a jazz singer. Paul Jost owns that improvised scrambled of sounds. What a Jazz singer he is!

“Sweet Lorraine”. Sweet indeed. It is very difficult to give some new light to certain songs. A giant like Nat King Cole squeezed all the available juice off of this beautiful, little song…and yet, there is still Jost. Brilliant.

“Blues on corner” – music by the great McCoy Tyner – with Andy Lalasis on bass and Bob Shomo on drums, there is a scat dialogue happening here that becomes different words to different people. Feel it. This voice is an instrument, and he knows how to play it.

The rest will move you just as much – perhaps even more! “All of you”, “I don’t need no doctor”, the self-penned “Book Faded Brown”, “Waltz New”, “Gentle Rain”, “This nearly was mine”, “Days of wine and roses” – they are all happening in a moment in time where this artist offers a hand full of dreams in the key of Jazz, and all we can really do is be grateful for his talent and his voice

Produced and arranged by Paul Jost, Breaking Through is already one of the best albums of 2014.
Esther Berlanga-Ryan©