Pippa Hayes

Pippa Hayes

Pippa Hayes

It Had to Be You

Seyah Records

In the cluttered jazz-vocal world, only a handful truly stand out, distinguishing themselves from their paint-by-numbers peers. In the genre’s need to be refined and faithful to its roots, too many play it safe, and the result is work that is marked by blandness. Sure, the technical aspects may be in place — all of the notes hit, the riffs played to perfection — but the lack of real emotional and creative sparks dull the effort down into wallpaper. Pippa Hayes is a remarkable exception.

Hailing from Australia, Hayes not only surrounds herself with a stellar backing band including internationally recognized trumpet player Bob Barnard, but she performs familiar jazz standards with an alluring soulfulness and youthful spunk. For example, Hayes projects both strength and sultriness on “Our Day Will Come,” reflecting the confident, steamy shuffle of the rhythm section. It’s one hell of an opener, immediately clutching the ears and being too irresistibly sweet to release. From that point, Hayes’s talent is apparent; the only question was her ability to sustain a record’s worth of material, to keep a tight reign on fickle attention spans.

She does.

From beginning to end, Hayes expresses different sides of her voice, from the playfulness of “Oh Lady Be Good” to the rainy-day melancholy of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.” There is impressive range in her singing. Not only can she vividly reflect the feelings of the lyrics, but she does so with a painter’s eye for imagery. You can visualize the scenes in the songs; her vocals act like a camera in your imagination, unreeling black-and-white scenes photographed from the heart. “Nearness of You” aches with a slow, haunting dreaminess. On “Lullaby of Birdland,” Hayes takes flight, her voice lighter than air itself.

There’s a difference between simply covering a classic and making it your own. Hayes manages to achieve both here. Her renditions are true to the essence of these tunes. At the same time, Hayes injects them with her own personality and life experiences. It’s almost as if you’d never heard them before. You certainly haven’t heard them like this.

Pippa Hayes: www.pippahayesmusic.com

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