SARA YERVAND – Introducing Sara Yervand
Written by Judy Brady
It feels great to say that there are only great things to say about Sara Yervand’s debut recording, Introducing Sara Yervand. The production is flawless, balanced and clean, significant in its effect on Yervand’s silky voice and interaction with her small band. The flow weaves effortlessly between solo, lead and ensemble passages. Yervand’s father, Yervand Yerznkyan, presents his exquisite arrangements by reinventing some classic jazz standards and adding a unique flavor to other appealing selections.
“Lush Life,” a decided favorite of singers and aficionados, glitters under Yervand’s flexible vocals and pianist Armen Donelian’s engaging exchanges. Performed as a duo, Yervand pulls Billy Strayhorn’s famous tune away from ritzy café society and into an intimate booth built for two. This may be the sweetest track on the record.
Another track, “Speak Low,” is a well-known collaboration between German émigré Kurt Weill and American poet Ogden Nash from 1943. Yervand’s band functions as a unit, a rich rhythm section behind her vocals. Percussionist Dane Richeson treads lightly along with bassist Jim Paolo, Matt Turner on cello and Donelian on keys. Cello solos are rare in jazz recordings, and Turner lurks patiently, delivering an eloquent contribution to a thoroughly enjoyable interlude.
Yervand performs two Cole Porter tunes, “It’s All Right With Me” and “Love For Sale.” Both welcome the addition of Anders Svanoe on sax and Dave Cooper on trumpet. The addition of the horns pushes the energy up a notch and showcases not only Svanoe and Cooper, but Yervand’s vocals (especially on “Love for Sale”). Yervand’s style rightly summons what we love about Porter’s wit and playful lyrics. “Moon Ray,” by jazz clarinetist and band leader Artie Shaw, is her sexy, simple rendition of timeless yearning: “Moon ray, just bring him back to me.”
George and Ira Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On?” precedes “Fly Me to the Moon,” juxtaposing the shy and supple nuances of a good love song with the gamey sass of, well, another good love song. At first glance, the reworking of such a well-worn classic as “Fly” can seem dangerous. Thousands of versions of this song exist. Its strength, however, comes from its ability to be reinterpreted and recreated by a willful and skillful songstress. Yervand’s arrangement of “Fly,” allows her to re-introduce musical elements—the gentle percussion, the stripped-down instrumentation, the dexterous vocal delivery—and showcases her individuality with a tune owned by the world. Nicely done.
Brazilian guitarist and composer Luis Bonfa shows up on track five with one of his most recognizable melodies, “Mahna de Carnaval” from the film Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus, 1959). Taken as a whole, Introducing Sara Yervand presents an intimate journey through some of the vocal jazz catalog’s favorite and dependable numbers. Small but thoughtful details like Bonfa’s song, the variation of instruments, the superb arrangements and Yervand’s confident presence create a wonderful contribution from a local artist, raising the bar a bit for the rest of us.