Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Nancy Ann Lee
JazzTimes, May 2000

"Making an exceptional debut as a leader, versatile vocalist Barbara Sfraga engages listeners straightaway with her multi-faceted style on 12 jazz/pop standards and originals. Her dynamic delivery brings to mind Anita O'Day or Particia Barber, yet Sfraga's one of those rare warblers who becomes immersed in lyrics without over-embellishing for special effect."

Chuck Obuchowski
WWUH (University of Hartford), April 2000

"The jazz market has lately been flooded with recordings by aspiring vocalists, in the wake of successes enjoyed by a select few -- most notably Diana Krall and Cassandra Wilson -- who have managed to catch the pop world's attention.

Given the current glut, one might glance at the song titles on Barbara Sfraga's debut disc and dismiss this as just another "safe" collection of tried-&-true standards. Oh, what a mistake! Sfraga, a 15-year veteran of the New York nightclub scene, refreshes the familiar material with enticing new approaches, molds some unlikely covers into vehicles for bold improvisation and throws in a few provocative originals for good measure. Oh, What a Thrill cops its name from a line in the 50s rock & roll hit "Great Balls of Fire," here slowed to a sultry crawl. Sfraga's purr-to-a-scream delivery might well make Jerry Lee Lewis, the song's most famous interpreter, blush. Guitarist Bruce Saunders adds to the seductive mood by firing off strings of gritty blues licks, while bassist John Hebert raises the temperature of this slow burner almost to the boiling point.

The songstress displays both her vocal gymnastics and clever wordplay on Saunders' furious bopper "Slug It Up." Her poignant kiss-off lyrics match his lightning-fast string picking, note for note. The guitarist later engages in superb cat-and-mouse soloing with pianist David Berkman.

Sfraga and her band of merry pranksters offer several inspired new arrangements of standard material, ranging from a lovely bossa reading of "Invitation" to their slightly funked-up version of "Angel Eyes," complete with bits and pieces of "Sunshine of Your Love"...who woulda thunk it?

Fred Hersch, widely acknowledged as one of the most lyrical baby-boomer jazz pianists, joins Sfraga for two gently swinging duets, and dominates the album's closing track, "Song for My Mother." The latter, an impassioned portrayal of Sfraga's spiritual journey, also carries a universal message for anyone who has experienced the subtle strength of a mother's undying love. In a lighter vein, Barbara enlists the masterful vocal talents (and lyrics) of Mark Murphy for a whimsical call-and-response romp through "I'll Call You," a lover's lament to his/her "ex."

The Naxos label has been releasing acclaimed classical recordings for many years but has only recently delved into the jazz realm. Mike Nock, a New Zealand born keyboardist who has been performing professionally for over four decades, is at the helm of Naxos Jazz."

Alex Henderson, January 2000

The 1990s were full of unimaginative Sarah Vaughan clones and faceless Ella Fitzgerald imitators who failed to bring anything fresh or personal to jazz singing -- like a lot of "Young Lion" instrumentalists, they were stuck in the past and refused to leave their comfort zones even for a minute. But the 1990s also brought us some impressive risk-takers, including Cassandra Wilson, Karrin Allison, Claire Martin, Ann Dyer, and Patricia Barber. Another adventurous jazz singer who started recording in the 1990s was Barbara Sfraga. An unpredictable artist who can be bluesy one minute and abstract the next, Sfraga takes more than her share of chances on her promising debut album Oh, What A Thrill. This post-bop/avant-garde CD gets off to an impressive start with an unlikely interpretation of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire," which Sfraga successfully changes from uptempo rockabilly to slow, atmospheric jazz-noir. And the New York-based singer also shows how daring she can be on the standard "Angel Eyes" (which incorporates Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love") as well as "Good Morning, Heartache" and Lee Morgan's "Free Wheelin'" (for which she provides lyrics). Though Betty Carter's influence serves her well, Sfraga is more accessible - in fact, those who have a hard time getting into Carter could easily be drawn in by Sfraga's dusky and alluring performances on "Invitation" and "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." Sfraga's primary accompaniment on this disc consists of guitarist Bruce Saunders, pianist David Berkman, bassist John Hebert, and drummer Eric Halvorson -- and she has noteworthy guests in pianist Fred Hersch, who is featured on three tracks, and vocalist Mark Murphy, who wrote the liner notes and performs a memorable duet with her on "I'll Call You." Oh, What a Thrill is highly recommended to those who are seeking something fresh and personal from jazz singing.

C. Michael Bailey
All About Jazz, December 1999

Gail Wynter's My Shining Hour (86027) and Jackie Allens' Which? (86042) precede Barbara Sfraga's addition to the Naxos Jazz Vocal Jazz coffers. All of these vocal collections have their charm. All are quite different. Sfraga begins her disc in a most unorthodox way: by setting the Jerry Lee Lewis chestnut, "Great Balls of Fire" in a quasi blues, jazz, rock setting that while quite effective, never really reaches the mark. She does better with the coupling of "Angel Eyes" and the Clapton Classic "Sunshine Of Your Love" where John Hebert lays down a steady propelling pulse under an insinuating Bruce Saunders guitar. This is the sexiest piece on a sexy disc. "Good Morning Heartache" is as much a reinvention of the Holiday standard as it is a cover. She sings in an angular fashion over Saunders' weaving guitar in a lightly rocking rhythm. Sfraga's voice is a sensuous amalgam that migrates from a low croon to a light as a feather breeze. Her style is immediately sensual, a super mood maker. She purrs with dense intent throughout this collection. A really halting tone. The highlights of this disc are the pieces on which ballademeister Fred Hersch provides piano support. Check out the most fine "Miss Harper goes to the Bizarre", "I Didn't Know What Time it Was", and "I'll Call You". This is what makes an already decent disc truly worth while. Mark Murphy shows up for a duet with Sfraga on "I'll Call You". All in all, Barbara Sfraga offers the greatest sex appeal in the Naxos Jazz cabinet. Not better than the Wynters or Allen discs, just sexier....

Chuck Miller (Program Director)
WRTI-FM, Philadelphia

"Barbara Sfraga's voice paints a powerful new meaning to expressionism. 'Oh What a Thrill' is Oh So Good. The program director's "oh-wow factor" is all over this release. You just know it's gonna knock you over in 35 seconds. Honestly, this is a moody, smoky, grinding, grooving kick-ass record!"

Mark Keresman
Waterfront Week

"Her supple, womanly tones (no little-girl-lost jive here) call out their devotion from the depths of a Motel 6 rendezvous to the cushiest penthouse tryst, conveying Betty Carter sophistication, Sheila Jordan gentle insouciance, Joni Mitchel suppleness and Janis Joplin audaciousness."

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group