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Matthew Ruddick

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Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Saturday, 27 May 2023 10:36

Fiona Ross - Thoughts, Conversations and To Do Lists

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A jazzy guide to modern life.

The splendidly-titled Thoughts, Conversations and To Do Lists is the new album by Fiona Ross, jazz singer, pianist, composer, teacher, journalist and all-round inspiration. As the album title suggests, the album’s lyrics address the complexities of modern life; how we juggle life and love whilst feeling pulled in all directions by family, friends, musicians, lovers and more. After a recent gig, a psychotherapist introduced herself to Fiona and said, “You touched a lot of people tonight, and I say that as a professional.” 

If that makes you think the album is all about “self-help” and a bit too “live, laugh, love”, you’d be wrong. The lyrics and intensely personal, very relatable and Fiona’s good homour and self-deprecation always shines through.

Musically, the album is a blend of Latin, jazz, jazz-funk and even a touch of ragtime. Bringing those seemingly disparate strands together are two things; first of all, Fiona’s “pop” sensibilities and knack for a strong hook, and second of all her superb band, who have graced her last few albums now.

The band is comprised of Fiona Ross on piano and vocals, Gibbi Bettini on guitar, Derek Daley on bass, Marley Drummond on drums, Loren Hignell on saxophones and flute, Dave Boa on trumpet, Ashaine White on backing vocals and Warren Woodcraft on percussion.

The album opens with the infectious Latin-groove of When Will You Leave My Mind, which features an acoustic guitar intro by Gibbi Bettini, as well as a tasty solo on electric, as well as a cool bass line by Derek Daley, all pinned down by the drums and percussion of Marley Drummond and Warren Woodcraft.

I Want To Know More has more of an old-school R&B flavour, which can’t be bad, and sees the multi-talented Loren Hignell double-up on both sax and flute, taking a solo on the latter, supported by the excellent Dave Boa on trumpet. Hats off – and she wears them well – to Fiona for the superb arrangement.

The Small Things is one of my favourite tunes, boasting a more stripped-back arrangement and some nice late night sax from Loren Hignell. Lyrically the song touches on how we need to appreciate the small but simple things in life. Amen to that.

When You Walked in the Room boasts a fierce party energy – the brass section on fire. Meanwhile the fun lyrics reference “the person that you pretended to be, had us all fooled for a while.” Ouch!

Push Me Around in a Pushchair is another fave, and celebrates the simplicity of life in our childhood years. This song is acoustic, which works well, and features the lyrical bass of Derek Daley, as well as a highly relatable lyric. Looking at my To Do List is based on a memorable piano hook from Fiona, while addressing how to cram a million things into one day. “I’m just trying to be the best that I can be, but it never feels enough, never feels enough.”

The Trumpet Man has a slightly different feel, examining how we can lose ourself in music, which allows us to get away from the everyday. It features some fabulous trumpet from Dave Boa, obviously, but also showcases the gorgeous backing vocals of Ashaine White, who combines so well with Fiona throughout.

Look What You’ve Become is another acoustic number and clearly demonstrates Fiona’s feel for a good “pop” hook; a lovely feel-good song which showcases her fine, warm singing voice to great effect.

The bitter-sweet Positive Things was my favourite song on the album and even brought a tear to my eye. “You couldn’t think of a positive thing, all those times, not a positive thing.” Just perfect.

The album closes with an amazing instrumental, thursdaythoughts, which is based around a fast, infectious piano line by Fiona, which gives way to a funky groove. It’s totally unexpected, but then Fiona Ross is always surprising everyone – even herself. Long may that continue.

Highly recommended. Five stars.

Read 997 times Last modified on Saturday, 27 May 2023 12:47

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Rob Mallows

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Simon Cooney

By day a full time Londoner in tv news. By night jazzaholic
 
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I love my jazz and I bless the funk. I play percussion for all and sundry and go by @Mr Cool.
 
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Jazz-obsessed freelance writer and saxist.
 
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Kim Cypher

Saxophonist, vocalist, composer, band leader and radio show presenter. Follows dreams and loves to celebrate great music and musicians.
 
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Fiona Ross

Fiona is the founder of the award winning organisation Women in Jazz Media. She was the guest editor in chief for the 2020 edition of Jazz Quarterly and writes for many publications across the globe.
 
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Wendy Kirkland

Jazz pianist and singer with wide musical tastes spanning latin through fusion to bebop and swing. Cat fanatic.
 
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From Manchester, currently living in Berlin. Lover of jazz, RnB, and soul inspired music.