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Helena Jessie

Music Play

by Ian Mann

April 27, 2006


An accomplished album covering twelve well-known standards.

‘Musicplay’ is the debut recording of this Irish born singer now resident in London. Raised in Dublin, Jessie moved to London to study Art History, and after graduating she worked in a gallery by day and sang in bars and restaurants at night. Initially inspired by Ella Fitzgerald she turned professional after being encouraged by her mentor the great British vocalist Anita Wardell.

The album features Jessie covering twelve well-known standards. Many of these songs are over familiar already, but at least Jessie has gathered a first class band about her and one can certainly enjoy their playing.

Barry Green is an intelligent pianist who has worked in more demanding contexts as a member of saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock’s band. Dave Whitford’s woody, resonant double bass opens the album on “Mean To Me” and he is excellent throughout. Whitford is sympathetically partnered in the rhythm section by drummer Matt Home.

Olaf Vas adds variety to the arrangements using a variety of horns. His imaginative clarinet makes Cole Porter’s “Begin The Beguine” one of the outstanding tracks on the album and his frothy flute enlivens “How High The Moon” and “Tenderly.” By way of contrast his big toned bluesy tenor features on a number of other tunes including “Shiny Stockings” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.”

As for Jessie herself she is a good, technically accomplished singer, but to me her voice lacks distinction and character. I have to admit to finding the current crop of young female vocalists (Jessie is 25) very “samey” and the fact that they all seem to cover the same standard material doesn’t help. Therefore, I tend to find myself listening to the instrumentalists instead.

The guys here are very good indeed, and the arrangements certainly breathe life into the repertoire.

I gather that like many other young singers Jessie has been championed by Michael Parkinson. Indeed, the album’s cover photographs show her to be an extremely attractive young lady, and she can certainly sing, so with Parky’s backing stardom may well yet beckon.

This is an accomplished if rather anonymous album and not to my personal taste. However, it may well appeal to a great many listeners.

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