On paper, Jackie Gage’s debut album reads like a typical jazz album of an aspiring singer wishing to make a mark. But it’s so much more; it’s an effective redefinition of torch cover to original.
She includes a few standard favorites — “That Old Black Magic” by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, “Comes Love,” made famous by Billie Holiday, another majorly covered classic, “Afro Blue.” She also shares three songs she co-wrote with William Bohrer and Timothy Wat, tracing the sad faces of love, based on true stories, as well as a classical number by a friend named Martine Tabilio, from her 2015 musical, “Club Nocturne.”
Gage intended for her Siren Songs to center around love and loss, in the torch tradition but with updated arrangements to fit her soulful-jazz style. Originally from California, the singer-songwriter recently relocated to New York City and plans to release her debut album 8 p.m. March 15 at Yoshi’s in Oakland.
Torch singers usually lose themselves in the misery of falling in love and breaking up. Think Billie Holiday, a jazz legend Gage grew up listening to and revering.
Yet, despite the origins of torch, Gage naturally exudes a lighter, brighter spirit that permeates the nine songs with a glowing, preternatural attachment to the better aspects of love in spite of the downfalls, disappointments, and damaged souls.
Gage’s spirited, eternally youthful personality bursts through the downward timbering notes of a string section intent on brooding misery in “Serves Me Right,” that Martine Tabilio song about heartbreak in Mexico, as a young male suitor ruthlessly lets the heroine down.
Gage also uses the instrumentation to her imaginative advantage, playing with style and form in “It’s Your Love.” A bright, smart original song echoed by Gage’s dreamy, girlish, temporal blues, “It’s Your Love” stands out specifically with the addition of marimba (Dillon Vado). The vocal repeat of the chorus and the African flavor of the marimba exude the far-off exotic destination that falling in love for the first time might feel. The marimba also seems to take on the role of the duplicitous suitor, as Vado trails half-finished beats in the distance.
She wrote the song with her own teenaged crush in mind. Ultimately, she fell for a sweet-talker who hid a bevy of beauties in his wake. “As my writing style has transformed, I’ve reimagined how this song would sound throughout the years. I finally heard a percussive drive fueling this tune. The marimba was the perfect highlight — sweet and soft, but as the song continues, the reverb on the instrument shifts to highlight the desperation in the words.”
The words are fairly straightforward, pure, and heartbreakingly real, leading to the young girl’s inevitable awakening — to be appreciated with music rather than read in silence: “I’ve been wasting away, watching the clock beat ever so slowly for you, ticking away for you. Oh I am on my knees, praying for you, hoping you’ll notice it, wasting my time for you, for you. And it’s your love, and it’s all I want to lose.”
Jackie Gage has been favorably compared to Sade, Gretchen Parlato, and Esperanza Spalding. She is all three and so much more. The 2014 Jazz Search West finalist just may be tomorrow’s next rising jazz star with this debut album.