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ALBUM REVIEW:

QUESTIONS LEFT UNANSWERED

Sounds of A&R (S.O.A.R)

Review by Darren Harper

20th January 2021

Sounds of A & R (S.O.A.R) is the collaboration between vocalist April May Webb and trumpeter Randall Hayward. ‘Questions Left Unanswered’ is their second release as a partnership and, let’s not beat around the bush, it is brilliant.

The album is a good mix of original compositions, new takes on jazz standards and some “jazzifications” of well known songs from outside the genre. Firstly, the album is pleasingly long. I am often left wanting by a good new release, when it ends 35 minutes later, after track 6 or 7. Here we have 14 tracks (including preludes and reprises) and a full hour of music, with enough variety, ingenuity and familiarity to keep one invested until the very end.

Webb’s voice dances over each track with such range and diversity. One minute we’re listening to a swinging, classic jazz vocal that stirs memories of some of the greats then, the next, she is exuding pure soul and R&B. It’s a highly listenable voice with real depth and versatility, not to mention stunning range.

Not to be outdone, the beautifully warm and pure tone of Hayward’s trumpet is a real joy.

The album opens with ‘Thus The Beginning’. This is actually a spoken word piece, over a gentle jazz groove. I soon realised that I was listening to ‘their’ beginning. With an album so intensely personal, it was the perfect way to start. Having never met them, and despite living on the other side of the world, I was immediately invested in their story. It made the rest of the album feel like an intimate live show, performed just for me. And I was strapped in for the ride.

The original compositions are absolutely solid, with ‘Moments When I Was  Kid’ being a particular favourite of mine. A bright, breezy and playful reminiscence of what it was to be young and carefree. You can really close your eyes and picture sunny days gone by.

“Jazzifications” of well known songs can sometimes be a concern. One has often come to expect a slightly predictable, swinging, Big Band sound, the sort that has filled many an album over the last couple of decades or so. However, S.O.A.R have managed something very different here. Take, for example, their version of the Dolly Parton classic, ‘Jolene’. They masterfully deliver a track that sits firmly in the jazz genre, whilst maintaining all of the heart and soul of the original. The same can be said for ‘Killing Me Softly’, another real gem on the album.  It is clear that these songs have been chosen, not just because of the musical opportunities they afford, but because of what the original means to those re-working them.

 

The ‘Killing Me Softly Reprise’, which explodes in to life with a fierce Latin vibe, is sheer joy.

 

To finish as I started, this album is brilliant. 2021 already has a highlight and, in my opinion, it is one that will be hard to beat. 

 

Sounds of A&R includes April May’s siblings Jacob Webb on bass and Nathan Webb on drums, plus guitarist Charlie Sigler, pianist James Austin and harpist Riza Printup.