The first thing you notice is her voice, and then her savvy choices. Lauren Kinhan possesses a rare and beautiful instrument, tough and tender, clear and fine-grained in every register, whether she’s dipping down into husky chest tones or ascending into silvery head tones. With her glorious sound, she could sing anything and make it a memorable listening experience. When legendary Phil Ramone discovered and signed Lauren at a Bitter End performance in NYC in 1997, he saw all that and a vision for creative songwriting that went beyond the norm de rigeur.
Whether on her own highly-acclaimed albums, as a 25-year member of the beloved vocal group New York Voices, or as co-founder of two diverse and inventive supergroups, Moss and JaLaLa, singer/songwriter Lauren has always forged her own path as a performer, composer and improviser. With her latest, A Sleepin’ Bee on her own Dotted i Records, Kinhan once again steers herself in unexpected directions that is at once the first all-standards collection of her career, a loving tribute to legendary vocalist Nancy Wilson, and unmistakably a Lauren Kinhan album – with all the unique perspective and idiosyncratic personality that has come to imply. Downbeat Magazine agreed, giving it 4 1/2 Stars in it’s February 2018 issue!
If the sudden appearance of an album’s worth of standards in a catalogue dominated by original songs comes as a surprise, the process of its creation is just as atypical. While Kinhan spent much of 2016 conceiving, rehearsing and workshopping the project, the circumstances of the recording arose suddenly through the auspices of her alma mater, Berklee College of Music. The session was an educational opportunity as well as a record date, providing a small group of Berklee students the invaluable privilege of observing and engaging in a recording session at the highest level.
First and foremost, though, A Sleepin’ Bee is a celebration of Nancy Wilson on the occasion of the genre-hopping singer’s 80th birthday. While Kinhan shares Wilson’s penchant for blurring stylistic boundaries, her choice of material focuses on Wilson’s early jazz albums, particularly her collaborations with Cannonball Adderley and George Shearing. Those recordings proved to be a jumping-off point for Kinhan, who utterly transforms these classic and obscure numbers with the help of pianist/creative partner Andy Ezrin and veteran producer Elliot Scheiner as well as a stellar band featuring bassist Matt Penman, drummer Jared Schonig and special guest trumpeter Ingrid Jensen. “Every single song in this collection hits a sweet spot of a different sort, but the most pleasing aspect of the recording is how it uncovers the stripped-down, soulful side of Kinhan’s voice,” All About Jazz.
With three brilliant albums of her own songs under her belt, not to mention her game-changing work with three distinctive vocal groups and wide-ranging collaborations with singular artists from Ornette Coleman to Bobby McFerrin, Kinhan always delivers a 360 degree view of her creative world. Circle in a Square, Kinhan’s 2014 release puts on high display her vivid identity as a songwriter with a gift for capturing the emotional currents of everyday life. Rooted in jazz’s improvisational imperative, she knows that you best celebrate the music by remaking it in your own image. Kinhan turns each piece into a self-contained emotional narrative driven by her unerring musical taste. Jazz Journal called it a “Tour de Force” and Jazz Times’ Christopher Loudon said “Kinhan has never shone brighter.”
She made a powerful first impression as a Phil Ramone find with 2000’s Hardly Blinking, an eclectic program of original songs exploring an array of topics and instrumental textures. A decade later, she followed up with the highly personal Avalon, an album deeply informed by her experience of motherhood, and the pleasures and challenges of family life.
Her decided journey with New York Voices has run at the forefront of her career, since 1992, recording a full color catalogue, logging millions of miles, and creating an educational division that is in high demand all across the globe. 2018 rings their 30th Anniversary as a beloved ensemble with three recordings in the pipeline, pairings with Ivan Lins and the Danish Radio Big Band and one with the Bob Mintzer Big Band (due in June 2018 on the MCG Label). In October of 2017, they returned to the studio with Elliot Scheiner for another NYV pot-pourri of songs and arrangements slated for release sometime in 2018.
With the new release of A Sleepin’ Bee, it wouldn’t be Babette’s Feast without one more project gunning for some sunshine. Moss is growing again with a 2017 residency at Western Michigan University merged old and new repertoire and a new bandmate. A new work is on the horizon with Kate McGarry, Theo Bleckmann, Peter Eldridge and new addition, Jo Lawry. Luciana Souza graced the first recording in 2008.
And with all her free time, there are guest artist appearances, co writing alliances and teaching engagements. Keeping this in-the-moment artist on her toes, on the road and in it for the long haul.