It’s testament to the overwhelming impact the multi-talented and vocally supple French born singer Marina Pacowski has had on the L.A. jazz scene since settling there in 2017 that 13 of the city’s busiest and storied musicians wanted in on the stunning dynamic studio sessions that evolved into her stunning debut album Inner Urge. These include bassist John Clayton, pianists Josh Nelson, Jon Mayer, Bevan Manson and Mark Massey, drummers Peter Erskine and Roy McCurdy and guitarist Larry Koonse – all of whom infuse their intuitive harmonic and improvisational genius with different lineups from track-to-track working with Marina’s sometimes gentle and exquisite, often boisterous and adventurous arrangements.
Marina’s journey from award winning musician and faculty member at the Conservatory of Music Maurice Ravel to budding SoCal jazz star began with an open rehearsal and jam session in the Mount Washington neighborhood. Her explosive scatting, command of harmony and indelible sense of swing caught the ear of trombonist Scott Whitfield, who ultimately became the project’s co-producer.
The confidence Marina and Whitfield had in what he calls her “burning vocal improvisations” led them to launch the eclectic 13-track set with a wild rendition of the Joe Henderson-penned title track that serves as a vibrant showcase for her otherworldly scatting and intricate talent for creating vocal countermelodies. Before she lets us hear her sensual way with English lyrics, she introduces Clare Fischer’s “Pensativa” with improvised ocean sounds by Clayton, McCurdy and Clare’s son Brent Fischer on vibes to reflect her nostalgia for childhood days growing up on the Atlantic Coast of France, finding solace in the waves.
While Marina’s set list – featuring truly fresh, even surreal re-imaginings of classics by Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Jerome Kern, Freddie Hubbard, et al – offers a compelling study in fashioning classics to fit a semi-autobiographical narrative, the songs ultimately serve as palettes for Marina to ride waves of straight lyric and improvised scat emotion while the top musicians in jazz play off her whimsical twists and turns.
Perhaps the most striking single example of this is the ensemble’s twist on “On Green Dolphin Street,” which features a brisk 5/4 groove and two infectious improvised choruses where Marina’s incredible vocal range comes into play. Another element of the singer’s attitude and artistry that emerges is her sense of romance and optimism, thoughtfully expressed on Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer’s “I’m Old Fashioned” and a carefree romp through “Taking a Chance on Love.” She shares another aspect of her musical heart with two sweet nods to her home culture via a tender “La Vie En Rose” and a French language version of “What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life?”