Alma, Tactics as reviewed in The Phantom Tollbooth

Here lies some of the best pop / jazz I’ve heard in a very, very long time.

Artist: Alma
Label: Independent
Release Date: October 27, 2014
Duration: 8 tracks, 29:17

Some of the best treasures are those, which were unplanned yet found. Such has been the case in my finding the work of Alma (Cook), a pop / jazz female vocalist, arranger and bandleader. Alma is a 24-year-old artist originally from Madison, Wisconsin now residing in LA via Columbia College in Chicago. This Christian artist focuses her art on the human condition putting her life experiences front and center to create a meaningful message in thought provoking, original music.

In 2012 she released the EP Pass It On, a pop / soul offering showing jazz stylings. 2014 brought her single “For A Poet” along with her 2014 fan supported EP Tactics. Both releases show maturation to a jazz platform while having a strong foundation in pop, soul, and R&B. Tactics is a collection of eight songs each addressing elements of human nature. With tight vocals, occasional spoken word in a rappish style like modern-day scat, great horns, soft piano and hot rhythm the EP has teeth. Along with bassist and producer Chris Thigpen, the duo creates well-arranged songs with hard-hitting lyrics.

“Take 21 (Reprise)” jumps at the listener with spoken word-to-rap opening to strong percussion, trumpet, and Alma’s vocals embracing lyrics which meander through the listeners senses painting a picture of human nature with:

I'm not impressed with it, fight until the death with it; 
Might be a southpaw, but I won't be left with this. 
So before we get too far talking vision for changes, 
I'd like for us to visualize what change is. 


Maybe it's me, but it seems kinda humbling 
How we lay concrete but can't keep it from crumbling. 
Call me naïve, but you got me wondering 
Why we got two good feet but prefer to keep stumbling. 

A little scat leads into “Blind Side” with bright guitar, keys and horns laying the foundation for Alma’s vocals to soar from a calming plateau to great heights. Great horns underlie the emotion. “Honey” has light acoustic guitar and sharp percussion lending solid support to bright and playful vocals like a day on an ocean’s lonely beach, but don’t let the calm setting disgrace the message of substance abuse with:

Sick of the way she'll… 
Take me by the neck & bite me 
When I'm stocking up the kitchen. 
Been a clean couple days; I might've 

Finally broken the addiction. 
I swore I'd cut you at the source, 
But when I shut the doors 
You leave me wanting more. 

Honey, whatcha do that for? 
You know you seem so sound, 
You always seem so sound. 
You really seem so sound, 
But you're only ever gonna weigh me down. 

Oh, fool me once, fool me twice, 
We're gonna get it right. 
Maybe I should take that warning, 
Or maybe it can wait till morning. 

To know every word of advice— 
Wouldn't it be nice? 
I look at her & oh, she's lovely, 
But I'm getting kinda sick of that honey. 
I look at her & oh, she's lovely, 
But I'm getting kinda sick of that honey. 

The soft and delicate “Head Rush” is followed by “Tactics” leveraging rap with a movement like Blondie’s “Rapture” having an affect on the listener that grabs and stays.  “Hotshots” showcases powerful horns giving strength to the duet featuring Chrissi Hartigan that moves and shakes with a sharp trumpet solo, the duet moves in and out with the horns to produce exacting emotion. “Worn”, a song of faith’s trials and tribulations has meandering guitar and underlying piano while “New Nation” has a light and colorful chorus leading to spoken word easily weaving the tapestry of its story.

Alma has the vocal innocence of Amber Rubarth combined with vocal qualities rivaling Denise Donatelli. If Alma’s early works are any indication of what is to come from this talent we are in for many treasures! Here lies some of the best pop / jazz I’ve heard in a very, very long time.

To get a feel for Alma’s art and Christian foundation see her videos at!catalogue/cjwu

Scott S Mertens