JANICE BORLA GROUP
Chicago vocalist Janice Borla released her first album in 1986 and waited a decade to make the sequel–during which time she has lived in the exurbs and taught college music–so the concept of “risk” probably won’t leap to mind at the mention of her name. But it should; the evidence arrived on last year’s DMP album Lunar Octave (for which this writer supplied the liner essay). Borla takes risks with her material and with her approach to jazz singing in general. While she has mastered the beautiful vocal caress that singers have sought almost since jazz began, she doesn’t treat her ballads as dramatic set pieces; nor does she worry about finding the right degree of perkiness to fit some cute novelty tune. Her performances meet the challenges that face any improvising vocalist who wants to do more than just trade scat choruses with her sidemen. Like Mark Murphy, one of her heroes, she finds fresh ways to structure the interaction of voice and other instruments, avoiding such obvious choices as lyrics-then-solos or the relegation of accompanying instruments to the rear of the stage. A fine example is Lunar Octave’s version of “Round Midnight,” on which Borla and vibraphonist Brad Stirtz paint a chilly picture of loneliness worthy of Edward Hopper, but Borla also excels in her choice and interpretation of less traditional material. On the moody John Abercrombie tune “Arcade,” she matches her wordless vocal to the gently pulsing beat; her version of Bill Evans’s “Five” contains a whimsically complicated set of words that mirrors the delightful rhythmic tension of the melody–and brings this supposedly unsingable tune into the vocal realm. Borla’s use of such songs focuses attention on her intelligence and her musicianship, which eclipse even her formidable technical skills–her translucent timbre, her relaxed control of tempo, the surge of power at both extremes of her range–and distinguish her from many of her contemporaries. Her band comprises drummer Jack Mouse, bassist Jim Cox, guitarist John Moulder, and trumpeter Art Davis; the aforementioned Stirtz appears only on the last night of this engagement. Tuesday through Thursday, 8:30 PM, and next Friday and Saturday, April 11 and 12, 9:30 PM, Metropole Lounge, Fairmont Hotel, Illinois Center, 200 N. Columbus; 312-565-8000 or 312-559-1212. Neil Tesser
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.