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Sophie Bancroft

Hot and Cold

by Ian Mann

June 07, 2006


Hauntingly effective. Very accessible and highly melodic.

It certainly makes a refreshing change to hear a female jazz singer attempting something different from the usual format of lukewarm covers of standards in a package where the cover shots are hotter than the material.

This latest release on her own label from Scottish singer Sophie Bancroft shows her to be a talented singer and songwriter. The material is virtually all self-penned and eschews standards altogether. Although grounded in jazz the material ranges widely enough to take in folk and pop influences.

Bancroft has a clear, precise voice which is hauntingly effective on slow, ethereal folk influenced material such as “Wandering Angel”. However, she is equally at home with light, poppy songs like “Show Me what A Man Can Do”(featuring Sara Blumenstein’s lyrics) and Wendy Waldman’s “Mad Mad Me”. Her jazz phrasing is particularly effective on the title track and also on “Cruel Or Just Kind”.

Besides her vocal contribution Bancroft also plays guitar on most of the songs. She has also gathered a first class band about her and they are a big boost to the album’s success. The band are among the cream of Scottish jazz musicians and with the scene north of the border so strong at present this is quite a recommendation.

The core of the group are Dave Milligan on piano, Tom Lyne (bass) Sandy Wright (guitar) and drummer Donald Hay. The peerless Milligan doubles on organ on the title track, contributes a sparkling piano solo on “Cruel Or Just Kind”, helps with the arrangements and is generally excellent throughout. Lyne plays swingingly and sympathetically and Hay’s tasteful and economic drums and percussion complete a top class rhythm section.

(Incidentally Milligan and Lyne appear on an excellent piano trio album “Late Show” recorded under Milligan’s leadership. Drummer Tom Bancroft completes the trio and the album was released on the Caber label in 2003.)

Sandy Wright contributes a wide range of guitar sounds which are always apposite to the tune in question. He even gets the chance to rock out a little on “No Matter What”. Wright also contributes a composition the slyly humorous “Hotel” which features some of Bancroft’s best jazz singing.

Saxophonist Phil Bancroft adds a brief coda to “Beautiful Place” but his main role is in the producer’s chair assisted by Sophie and by Tom Lyne.

Sophie Bancroft’s lyrical concerns vary from the sensuality of the title track to the environmental sentiments of “Easy To See”. “In Your Solitude ” is a survivor’s anthem and “No Matter What” a hard hitting put down. By contrast “Beautiful Place”,” Wandering Angel” and “Butterfly” are ethereal and wistful. The two more straight ahead love songs come from outside lyricists (Blumenstein and Waldman as mentioned above). In general Bancroft’s lyrics are well crafted and sometimes thought provoking.

This is a very accessible and highly melodic record which retains its integrity. A good deal of thought has gone into the writing and arrangements and the singing and playing are impeccable. It’s still a little too smooth for my personal tastes, but the range of styles should appeal to many listeners and with airplay in the right places this could easily become a hit album.

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