(4 / 5)
A new name to me. Arrived in a package of CDs from a Sweden-based music PR today. Always enjoy sifting through what this guy sends me, as there is usually at least one gold nugget included.
In today’s batch, that nugget is this one. On hearing the first and second tracks, I thought; this Neila has a cracking set of pipes on her. But after reading the sleeve note and credits, I realised my mistake…
Neila Dar is in fact the name of the band. The singer is Jasmine Tommaso. Together with guitarist Lorenzo Grassi, Joe Bagg on organ and Camilo Melo on drums, the band is based in L.A. The players are from Italy, Columbia and America. They dropped the single, “Son Of The Stars” in 2014. The following year, an EP, “Some People Question Reality”.
Jasmine and Lorenzo honed their sound and penned their own distinctive material while gigging around L.A. over many weeks on the jazz circuit, crafting enough songs for this debut album. All but one of these 11 songs written by the pair. Track five, “Don’t Wake Up The Sun”, was written by “Sage”, aka Saverio Principini.
They call their sound “vintage avant-garde.” The versatile material is inspired by Southern California’s most evocative landscapes, the Pacific Ocean, the urban cosmos of greater Los Angeles, and the vast wilderness of the high desert.
It’s a bit of a chameleon musically; no one style or direction. There’s plenty of soul chops in Jasmine’s considerable vocal talents, lovely delivery, perfect diction and she seems to be able to wrap her abilities around any old style thrown at her. Clearly an experienced singer, on stage and in the studio. A very relaxed and innate style. Uber-impressive.
But, this material is all over the place and therefore there is no one core, niche sound. Those vocals and the quality of this band, deserve to be heard far and wide, but a lot of the songs here just don’t go anywhere. It doesn’t seem to offer the right vehicle for Jasmine to really go for it, to my ears. One gets the impression she has a heck of a lot more to give, as do all the players here, but the songs do not lend themselves to allow that.
You’d be hard pushed to nail the genre here, if you were filing the CD in a record store, and it’d be a big ask to hear this record all the way through, turn it off and be asked 10 minutes later to hum or whistle any of the tunes or recite any of the lyrics from the 11 cuts.
The band say they are all about love, freedom and adventure. So maybe the band and singer Tommaso set out to show how versatile they can be, and not be pinned down to one style. Their choice, of course. But I cannot help think that had they worked with an outside force, an experienced producer who could channel them into a core sound, and exploit their strengths as a unit and that fabulous voice, this would be not just a “very good” debut album, but it would qualify as “world class”. As it is, this will be an acquired taste and miss out on a lot of radio exposure and being discovered by a bigger audience.
The opener “Western Dream” is a tad quirky and not the strongest choice to kick things off with. “Meaningful” is a stronger cut, with a sassy jazz-soul vibe. “Desert Swag” sits on swirling organ and a rockier foundation. The title cut offers the best vocal thus far. An ethereal, wispy, spacey slow number with jingly jangly guitars and grunged-up organ.
A hooky, commercial cut with the jazzy-poppy “Don’t Wake Up The Sun” and another winning vocal, with Jasmine tapping into her very cool upper register. Love the jerky time signature and Jasmine’s clever phrasing on “Rain”, which owes a lot to Lorenzo’s guitar work.
A 60s Merseysound pop vibe with bright and sparkly guitars on “Let’s Dance”, one of the less memorable tracks among the set for me. But then, my personal favourite track, “Mr Magician.” A mid-tempo and sparse approach, but Jasmine’s controlled and sweet vocal is just gorgeous. Sade territory maybe, and that is meant as a compliment. The band’s restraint and the space they leave is to be commended. Again, the singer’s use of upper register is spot on.
“Roll The Dice” is an OK track, before a reggae flavour on the penultimate and fun cut “Scubudubidaba”, but the album would not have suffered had this one been left off. The closer “Summer Lovin”, slows down the pace and sits on a blues-jazz feel, the organ low in the mix creates a warm and smokey vibe. The track may have benefited from some double bass or fretless. No bass player on the record, of course, so my assumption is Joe Bagg’s feet are kept busy on his organ pedals to provide what bottom end you can hear in the mixes. I do think the record misses a bass player. Jasmine’s vocal harks back to the jazz and big band divas on the final track, another fine example of what she can do with that excellent instrument of hers.
I do hope there is another album soon, and maybe she and the band get to work with the right producer and drill down on finding that niche sound which I know is in there somewhere, and will make all the difference in how big this band can be. The individual and collective talent is there, for sure. Especially Jasmine Tommasso’s exceptional vocal skills.
For me, investigating the soul side of Jasmine’s voice, both traditional R&B and nu-soul, but staying true to her obvious jazz roots, could be the way forward. But for now, this is a very pleasing and promising start, and hopefully predicts a lot more to come.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’