Jeff Rupert and Veronica Swift craft inviting jazz on “Let’s Sail Away”

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Saxophonist Jeff Rupert and vocalist Veronica Swift are part of an ensemble bringing American standards and jazz classics to life on the new release, “Let’s Sail Away.” New songs are also included on the release. The group’s vibe is fun, but with a sense of jazz traditions. The result is relaxing listening.

About Jeff Rupert

The two performers have been brought together through an appreciation of swinging music. Rupert is a saxophonist with an impressive record of working with jazz notables. Among the noteworthy performers Rupert has played with are Mel Torme, Diane Schuur, Kevin Mahogany, Ernestine Anderson and Benny Carter’s Grammy-winning “Harlem Renaissance.”

Rupert has to his credit six albums as a leader, all of which charted on Jazz Week. His performances have taken Rupert to Blue Note, Birdland, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and several international venues.

Aside from playing jazz, Rupert also works as an educator. He is the Pegasus Professor, Trustee Endowed Chair, and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Central Florida. He is also the founder of Flying Horse Records.

 About Veronica Swift

As the youngest member of the ensemble put together by Rupert, Swift defies her age and performs with prowess. In his notes, Rupert notes that 50 years separate Swift and the oldest performer in the group, pianist Richard Drexler. Despite her youth, Swift has been performing jazz for more than half her life. When she was 11 years old, Swift appeared at Lincoln Center in New York City as part of the “Women in Jazz” series at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. In 2015, Swift won second place in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition. She has also appeared with Michael Feinstein at Lincoln Center.

The ensemble is rounded out by Drexler on piano and Marty Morrell on drums. Charlie Silva plays bass, and on “Rhapsody in Blue” additional horns are provided by Dan Miller on trumpet, Christian Herrera on trombone, and Saul Dautch on saxophone.

“Let’s Sail Away”: soundscape

There is something terrifically smart about this recording that does whisk listeners to other places. Other places, it seems, where dreams come true. It is easy to get lost in the rich soundscape. The energy of each piece captivates audiences. There is a sense of swing in almost every song, and it is difficult to explain how one song is “better” than another on this recording. This is an album worth recommending to other jazz fans.

While all of the members play with skill, it is Swift who stands out. And, not just because she provides the vocals, and is at the front of the soundscape. Her voice is a well-tuned instrument already. Her phrasing is perfect, and even when it seems she is about to miss the rhythm of a measure, Swift puts the syllable in the next measure. This is derring-do for a vocalist. She is one of a handful of singers who embrace their high voices and doesn’t push them lower to achieve an artificially smoky sound.

“Rhapsody in Blue”

While all songs on “Let’s Sail Away” are worth writing about, “Rhapsody in Blue” is not to be missed. Listeners familiar with the classic tune know that there are no lyrics in “Rhapsody in Blue.” That doesn’t stop Swift from using her voice as an instrument, literally. Swift joins in as part of the horn section. Rupert writes that this will occur, but it is difficult to imagine until Swift makes space for herself among the brass. Her vocalese is an artful interpretation of a muffled trumpet.

The song begins with a contemporary-sounding clatter of drums and swagger of horns. After a few measures, that motif gives way to the original’s signature saxophone motif. At almost a minute-and-a-half in, Swift’s horn-inspired vocalese begins. She weaves in and out of the soundscape. When the pace picks up, and it sounds as if the drums are leading the way through the song, it is difficult to tell that the extra instrumentation comes from a human being. The song swings nicely, with clearly audible bass runs adding texture to the piano and drum focused section. Later, Swift engages in traditional vocalese that is skillful and fun.

“Let’s Sail Away” is a beautifully composed and executed album.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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