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Zara McFarlane

Zara McFarlane

Zara McFarlane
@ the Love Supreme Jazz Festival
6 July 2013

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Biography

Anybody keeping an eye on the ongoing development of the British jazz scene will have noticed Zara McFarlane in the last few years. The 28 year-old London vocalist has made a string of impressive appearances with musicians who do no choose their collaborators without careful consideration –Denys Baptiste, Orphy Robinson, Soweto Kinch and Jazz Jamaica All Stars to name but some. McFarlane’s appearance on the latter’s 2006 Motown-themed album Motor City Roots revealed a singer whose power was offset by delicacy, as was clear from her sensitive handling of Stevie Wonder’s My Cherie Amour.

All of these experiences have furthered the growth of Zara McFaralane as an artist in the most complete sense of the term and the singer made good on her potential when she issued her self-produced EP, “Until Tomorrow” in 2010. The 6 track mini-album was evenly split between original compositions such as Captured and standards like the perennial jazz favourite “On Green Dolphin Street.” There was enormous poise in the way that McFarlane handled the melodic line and chord changes of a piece but what was arguably as impressive was the fact that she asserted herself as a thoughtful lyric writer.

Now that EP has evolved into a full-length album, “Until Tomorrow,” and it marks Zara McFarlane’s debut for Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood records. Backed by a brilliant aggregation of musicians that includes pianist Peter Edwards, double bassist Nick Walsh, drummer Andy Chapman and saxophonists Binker Goldings, Camilla George and Zem Adu, McFarlane comes into her own on an engrossing set that includes more originals such as “Chiaroscuro,” “Blossom Tree” and “More Than Mine.”

“Most of this album was recorded before I even met Gilles,” Zara explains “I did 5 new songs this year in January. Pete Edwards wrote arrangements and things just fell into place. I suppose that I was really trying to bring a contemporary feel to old music. I think anyone can listen to jazz but it’s up to us to make it fresh so that anyone can relate to it.”

All of the finesse in Zara McFarlane’s delivery stems from both a natural gift and years of formal study at a very high standard. In 2001 she studied popular music performance at Thames Valley University and then went on to complete a Masters Degree in Jazz Studies at the Guildhall School of Music in 2009. As her education suggests, McFarlane is as drawn to popular culture as she is high art, and her work to date wholeheartedly shows that she is comfortable in a wide variety of contexts. She has thus collaborated with the acclaimed house producer Bopstar, contributed one of her original compositions to the contemporary soul compilation Basement Soul and also done gigs with South African icon Hugh Masekela and the gifted British pianist and arranger Alex Wilson.

The creative spark for Until Tomorrow was lit a long time ago.“Some of the songs on the album go back some time,” she notes. “I’ve wanted to make an album for years, probably about 10 years or so, and now this definitely feels like the right time for me.”

One of the curveballs that McFarlane throws on “Until Tomorrow” is her rendition of “The Children And The Warlock” and “Thoughts.” These two superb tracks are by pianist and composer Harry Whittaker, a relatively unheralded figure in the jazz world who is nonetheless respected for his work with Roy Ayers, Carmen Lundy and his own Black Renaissance project. “Gilles Peterson introduced me to Harry Whittaker’s trio album, Thoughts Past And Present,” Zara says “There were a couple of tracks that I chose from there. His writing reminded me of Pete’s Edwards in a way. It was really melodic, spacious and very emotive. That’s what I try to have in my music. It’s more of an emotional journey as opposed to a just piece for the sake of writing a piece.”

The arrangements for “Until Tomorrow” have a liberal dose of subtle, stealthy swing, yet as steeped as Zara McFarlane is in the jazz tradition, she has brought an eminently soul undercurrent to what she does, and it is entirely possible that she could appeal to audiences weaned as much on Jill Scott and Erykah Badu as Cassandra Wilson and Dianne Reeves. Blessed with a fine voice and a strength of character that has led her towards thought-provoking, if not challenging lyrics, Zara McFarlane has with Until Tomorrow taken a giant step down the road to what is surely a long, illustrious career.

Zara McFarlane

Zara McFarlane

Zara McFarlane


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