Close your eyes and you’re in an intimate club enjoying a cool jazz trio and hearing a voice that makes you want to ask, ‘where can I find one of her CDs?’
You start to wonder where all of the really good music went and all of a sudden you hear something – out of nowhere – that bowls you over. That’s what happened to me when I listened to Take Me In, by Kerensa Gray, an artist I’d never heard of but became a fan of before the CD was over.
Every now and then it’s good to take things back to the basics, and that’s what this gifted jazz vocalist has done on this project. Backed by a wonderful trio (Scott Williamson on drums, Craig Nelson on bass, and Pat Coil on piano), Kerensa’s smoky, evocative, stirring vocals bring to mind the likes of Etta James, Sarah Vaughn and the best of the pantheon of classic female jazz singers. Gray’s voice is an expressive, textured instrument full of experience and soul. Close your eyes and you’re in an intimate club enjoying a cool trio and hearing a voice that makes you want to ask, ‘where can I find one of her CDs?’
Take Me In is tastefully produced by Eric Copeland (who also plays keyboard on the un-listed “This is your Pain”), who let the musicians and the compositions speak for themselves without studio embellishments. The sound is wonderfully rich and warm, uncluttered and pure – the way this music is meant to be heard.
Gray phrases like a master, without the senseless vocal noodling that other gifted but less-tasteful singers fall prey to. Still, Kerensa’s voice is fluid and she can sound slightly sinister (“The Snake”), deeply emotional (“Good Morning Heartache”), and even a bit intimidating (“Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets”). The exotic, swinging “Night In Tunisia” lets the trio strut its stuff after the vocalist introduces the drum-break with a bit of spot-on scatting. The complex melody of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most” is executed bravely and amazingly as a vocal / bass duet – a bold move that few could carry off. “What’s New” sounds like it was written for Kerensa to sing and “My Funny Valentine,” for me, the test of a really good vocalist, comes off masterfully, with Gray hitting some startling depths on the word, “stay.”
The album ends with a wonderful original – the aforementioned un-listed track is written by Kerensa Gray and is a rare breed: a contemporary gospel/jazz composition. The song is sophisticated, melodic, and in the emotional/spiritual/lyrical wheelhouse of artists like Nichole Nordeman, but with the soulful delivery of the urban/contemporary genre. At a time when ‘contemporary Christian radio’ prides itself by being ‘safe,’ artists like Kerensa Gray, and songs like “This is Your Pain” are important reminders that real life doesn’t always play out that way – Gray’s voice conveys that balance of pain and ecstasy. Take Me In – this one’s for the grown-ups.
- Bert Saraco
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