Tessa Souter, Obsession

Tessa Souter is a consummate and dedicated vocalist who is deservedly on the rise in the New York jazz scene and elsewhere. A contralto who sings with both precision and emotion, her impressionist and minimalist interpretations bring out the meanings of her songs while remaining true to their melodic lines. Following Listen Love (Nara Music, 2004) and Nights of Key Largo (Venus Records, 2008), Obsessioncontinues her in-depth preoccupation with the nature and experience of love, but with a slight shift to the Latin rhythmic side. In this respect, she is helped along by a well-chosen ensemble of instrumentalists who surround her with gentle warmth. By incorporating guitar (Jason Ennis), accordion (Victor Prieto), and violin (Todd Reynolds) into the group, Souter establishes a sultry feeling of a late night cabana in a southern clime. This provides the backdrop for further reflections on the vicissitudes of intimacy which she pursued in her previous recordings.

The songs are well-chosen and carefully crafted, and the arrangements are done with great care to evoke an intended range of feelings and stylistic changes. The recording begins on the lonely 1960s note of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” and goes on to songs such as “Riverman,” “Obsession,” and “White Room,” which evoke the passionate, obsessive side of love. “Afro Blue/Footprints” evokes John Coltrane’s classic in an urbane manner, leading up to “Make This City Ours Tonight,” while the remaining songs explore the light and dark aspects of intimacy, always with echoes of Latin genres. The instrumentalists complement Souter’s singing with interpretive sensitivity, with Ennis’ playing especially striking.

Souter stands out in a large field of contemporary jazz vocalists because, unlike most of them, she thinks before she sings and never compromises the music with irrelevancies. She thinks not only of the music itself, to which she brings ample talent and sophistication, but also almost philosophically about what she wants to say. She uses dynamics and inflections to convey a deeper sense of meaning that the songs imply, and she does it with great attention to details that most singers overlook. This contemplative aspect, along with her unique style, precise articulation and her well-trained, stunning voice, make Souter a vocalist to reckon with and one whose development should be followed with great interest.

–Victor L. Schermer


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