Like most jazz websites and magazines, we get inundated with requests to review jazz singers, many of who simply rehash their own take on the Great American Songbook. On her debut album, Milan-born, London-based singer, Eleonora Claps, adopts a different approach, putting a Latin-based jazz spin on pop songs by the likes of Simply Red, Prefab Sprout and Cyndi Lauper. Some of these cover versions work better than others, but what really stands out here are the quality of the original songs and tunes on offer.
The album opens brightly with a version of a little-known Police song, I Burn For You. It originally appeared on the movie soundtrack to Brimstone And Treacle, but deserved better, and was reworked by Sting on his jazz-influenced solo album, Bring On The Night. The song is given a Cuban vibe here, courtesy of a fine arrangement by pianist John Crawford, who may be familiar to Kind Of Jazz readers through his work with –isq. Claps’ vocal is warm and earthy, and she also contributes a cool backing vocal to the song, which works well.
The title track is the highlight of the album, and was self-composed, with a lyric by Eleonora Claps, and a glorious arrangement by Crawford. The lyrics are bittersweet, with Claps asking what happened to that “shiny little girl”, but it’s the melody that really shines here. It’s a song that deserves some airplay, and will hopefully get some recognition.
Nini is another highpoint. The lyrics are in Italian this time, so I can’t make much of a comment, but the tune is based on a piece by Dvorak, and was given an innovative makeover by Crawford. It may be me, but Claps sounds more confident singing in Italian, and this comes across in a polished and confident performance.
Holding Back The Years, a cover of the hit by Mick Hucknall is less convincing, as the jaunty Latin rhythms don’t really add much to the song. Likewise her version of When Love Breaks Down, one of the many highlights of Steve McQueen by Prefab Sprout. The acapella arrangement is highly original, and showcases her vocal arrangement skills, but sounds somewhat out of place on a primarily Latin-jazz collection.
The album gets back on track with E'com Esse Que Eu Vou, a song which features on the 1973 album by Brazilian singer Elis Regina. Claps’ singing, both lead and backing vocal, work well here, and there’s a fine solo by John Crawford on piano. Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper has become a standard in its own right, and is in danger of being over-played, but the version here is lovely. It opens with some delicate percussion, courtesy of Andres Ticino, before some rolling piano by Crawford, taken at a faster pace than the original. The vocal is also gorgeous, making this the strongest of the cover versions on offer.
The album closes with Dear Prudence by The Beatles. Crawford switches to guitar here, and whilst the arrangement is interesting – particularly the backing vocals – it seems a slightly incongruous choice to close the album.
Overall, Stars is something of a mixed bag, then. The Latin-jazz elements work particularly well, in part because they suit Claps’ vocal style, but also because of the superb musical arrangements by Crawford. The self-composed songs also suggest real potential. The title track is fantastic, and hopefully we’ll be hearing more of her own songs in the near future. The covers are bold, and steer clear of the usual standards we’ve come to expect, but don’t always fit well with the vibe of the rest of the album.