Acrobats (feat. Linda May Han Oh & Allison Miller)
Australia’s Jo Lawry—backup singer with Sting, Paul Simon, and Peter Gabriel—has amassed serious modern jazz cred for her own recordings, as well as her work with Fred Hersch’s Pocket Orchestra, Jeremy Siskind’s Simple Songs project, lyricist David Hajdu, alto saxophonist (and husband) Will Vinson, and more. Acrobats, with a title track by fellow Aussie singer Gian Slater that mentions “trying to stay on the wire,” captures well what is going on here: Lawry out there on the wire with no pianist, no chordal instrument to ground her, nothing but the challenge of holding her own with the formidable rhythm team of bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Allison Miller. Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top” is a duet with Miller, meaning the only pitch reference is Lawry herself. It’s an arrangement with two ascending key changes, and she owns it. “Takes Two to Tango,” sung by Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby & Rosemary Clooney, and others back in the day, is just voice and bass, a showcase for Oh’s phenomenal tone, solid time, and unbridled inventiveness. “317 East 32nd Street” is a timelessly modern bop line by the great Lennie Tristano that Lawry and her colleagues dissect with microprecision and flowing swing. “You’re the Voice” is an Australian pop anthem, John Farnham’s rallying cry for change, which the trio puts into a fierce broken-beat feel, laying a foundation for Lawry’s inspired harmony overdubs and handclaps. There’s a Frank Loesser Guys and Dolls subtheme lurking as well, with the final two tracks and the opener, “Traveling Light,” a deleted song from the show.