• Jonathan Widran

AIMEE NOLTE, Lighten Up

The cover of multi-talented jazz singer-pianist Aimee Nolte’s brilliant 2019 album Looking for the Answers features a playful illustration of the singer as a young girl in a spacesuit on a bleak planet, shovel in hand, eager to embark on a journey of self-discovery. That dig down the proverbial musical rabbit hole results now in a fresh declaration on her latest collection to let loose, have fun with some freewheeling swinging arrangements (and a handful of more subtle emotional expressions) and Lighten Up.

That may be a more challenging ask considering the new world she’s releasing the project in. Yet listening to the gossamer soul sensuality of Aimee’s vocals - -which compare favorably to Norah Jones and Diana Krall, but truly surpass those greats - and charming, inventive scat will lift the spirit in any time and place. Her dynamic chords and imaginative improvisations are matched by the transcendent yet organically grounded magic of longtime ensemble mates, guitarist Mike Scott and bassist Bruce Lett, along with the exuberant energy of drummer James Yoshizawa.

The album's bookends reveal all we need to know about her multi-faceted artistry. She she opens with a sultry, dreamily atmospheric jazz ballad twist on a 70’s pop classic, truly bringing out the emotional inner world of “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” in unexpected ways. The singer pairs her hypnotic piano energy with Yoshizawa’s propulsive drums and infectious Irish bones playing on the whimsical “Ella’s Song,” not a tribute to Ms. Fitzgerald as one might think but bittersweet reflection on her daughter going away to college.

The rest of the compelling collection finds Aimee and the band in jazz adventureland, finding fresh and always delightful, sometimes scat-filled ways to “Nolte-ize” standards we just thought we knew, from “Skylark” and “Moon River” to “Old Devil Moon,” “Where or When” and “All The Things You Are.” Among these there is also a lovely, classic bossa styled spin on John Williams’ lesser known “Moonlight,” originally sung by Sting on the soundtrack to the 1995 remake of “Sabrina.”

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