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ClassicsOnline Home » SFRAGA, Barbara: Oh! What a Thrill!
By Chuck Obuchowski
WWUH (University of Hartford)
"The jazz market has lately been flooded with recordings by aspiring vocalists, in the wake of successes enjoyed by a select few -- most notably Diana Krall and Cassandra Wilson -- who have managed to catch the pop world's attention.
Given the current glut, one might glance at the song titles on Barbara Sfraga's debut disc and dismiss this as just another "safe" collection of tried-&-true standards. Oh, what a mistake! Sfraga, a 15-year veteran of the New York nightclub scene, refreshes the familiar material with enticing new approaches, molds some unlikely covers into vehicles for bold improvisation and throws in a few provocative originals for good measure. Oh, What a Thrill cops its name from a line in the 50s rock & roll hit "Great Balls of Fire," here slowed to a sultry crawl. Sfraga's purr-to-a-scream delivery might well make Jerry Lee Lewis, the song's most famous interpreter, blush. Guitarist Bruce Saunders adds to the seductive mood by firing off strings of gritty blues licks, while bassist John Hebert raises the temperature of this slow burner almost to the boiling point.
The songstress displays both her vocal gymnastics and clever wordplay on Saunders' furious bopper "Slug It Up." Her poignant kiss-off lyrics match his lightning-fast string picking, note for note. The guitarist later engages in superb cat-and-mouse soloing with pianist David Berkman.
Sfraga and her band of merry pranksters offer several inspired new arrangements of standard material, ranging from a lovely bossa reading of "Invitation" to their slightly funked-up version of "Angel Eyes," complete with bits and pieces of "Sunshine of Your Love"...who woulda thunk it?
Fred Hersch, widely acknowledged as one of the most lyrical baby-boomer jazz pianists, joins Sfraga for two gently swinging duets, and dominates the album's closing track, "Song for My Mother." The latter, an impassioned portrayal of Sfraga's spiritual journey, also carries a universal message for anyone who has experienced the subtle strength of a mother's undying love. In a lighter vein, Barbara enlists the masterful vocal talents (and lyrics) of Mark Murphy for a whimsical call-and-response romp through "I'll Call You," a lover's lament to his/her "ex."The Naxos label has been releasing acclaimed classical recordings for many years but has only recently delved into the jazz realm. Mike Nock, a New Zealand born keyboardist who has been performing professionally for over four decades, is at the helm of Naxos Jazz."
By Mark Keresman
"Her supple, womanly tones (no little-girl-lost jive here) call out their devotion from the depths of a Motel 6 rendezvous to the cushiest penthouse tryst, conveying Betty Carter sophistication, Sheila Jordan gentle insouciance, Joni Mitchel suppleness and Janis Joplin audaciousness."
About the music
Even with her very modern musciality, Barbara Sfraga is every bit a jazz singer. As fellow jazz vocalist Mark Murphy writes in the liner notes, Sfraga is a singer "who knows how to DARE. And if you can’t DARE, jazz won’t be comfortable for you." New Yorker Sfraga’s phrasings, scats and ballad singing are all done with an introspective but daring approach. It’s a voice that is full of honest emotions and wistful melodicism. She is never showy. Not with her revolutionary version of Jerry Lee Lewis' hit 'Great Balls Of Fire' or her unique take on jazz standards like 'Good Morning Heartache' or ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It was.' With as much reverence and disregard for traditions as singers like Cassandra Wilson and Sheila Jordan, Sfraga is, by any measure, an important singer today. Aided by Bruce Saunders' mood-inducing guitar work and, on three tracks, the brilliant sure-handed touch of pianist Fred Hersch, Oh What A Thrill is not just the record’s title (and a line from 'Great Balls Of Fire'), but an apt description for any listener’s response. The album also features fellow jazz vocalist Mark Murphy, who also wrote the liner notes, on one composition co-written by Murphy and Sean Smith called, 'I’ll Call You.'
About Barbara Sfraga
Singer/composer/lyricist Barbara Sfraga has performed extensively in clubs throughout the New York area, including the Village Gate, Birdland, Cleopatra's Needle, The Bitter End and Visiones. As a member of Sal Salvador's band, Crystal Image, Sfraga can be heard on the CD "Teo Macero Presents Sal Salvador and Crystal Image", for which she received four Grammy entries. Her lyricist credits include "Got a Match" with Chick Corea, "Blues for All Seasons" with Teo Macero and "Behold the Child" ("Saturn's Child") with Joe Locke. Barbara can be heard regularly with her band at Cleopatra's Needle, Lola, Luxia and Sessions 73.
Barbara Sfraga is founder and director of IN CONCERT WITH OUR COMMUNITY, a non-profit organization that brings musical and visual artists together to showcase talent while raising funds for children's charities.
Barbara Sfraga uses Sennheiser microphones exclusively.
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SFRAGA, Barbara: Oh! What a Thrill!