From his first pro gig at 18 as a principal vocalist with the internationally touring Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers through his recent tours with The 5th Dimension, Sidney Jacobs has spent a lifetime, like one of his chief influences Al Jarreau, artfully transcending the boundaries between jazz, pop and R&B.
Considering his expansive vocal range, effortlessly supple shifts from otherworldly jazz scat to straightforward emotional soul singing, it seems limiting that his new album If I Were Your Woman is only his second solo collection. Like, a guy this adventurous and talented – and someone secure enough in his masculinity to record an entire set of songs long associated with female leads – should be more well known for his extraordinary solo artistry by now.
The endless intrigue of the album starts with the cover artwork, with the large purple letters of “Woman” above an image of the singer (an Isaac Hayes lookalike) literally wearing rose colored glasses. The set of 10 full length tracks, four brief interludes and a prelude and a coda finds him inviting us into a dynamic, eclectic world where nearly anything goes. He complements his handful of original tunes (the feisty scat jazz jam “Weave the Tale” being the most pulsating and surreal) with fresh, vibrant soul-jazz (with exciting touches of gospel and brass) arrangements of classics and contemporary gems like “On a Clear Day” (Barbra Streisand), “Been So Long” (Anita Baker), “Until You Come Back to Me” (Aretha Franklin), “I’m Coming Back” (Lalah Hathaway), the title track (Gladys Knight & the Pips), “Facts” (H.E.R.) and “Like a Star” (Corinne Bailey Rae).
As far as the “male covering female” concept goes, the heart and soul of the project is Jacobs’ soaring swinging, scat filled twist on “I Feel Pretty” (a classic Maria song from “West Side Story”), adapted from a Nnenna Freelon arrangement he had great success with when he performed it live.
On a more personal level, the singer’s truest heart is expressed on the snazzy big band romp “Light,” which was inspired by words his mother said, and the trippy, sonically surreal closing piece “Conversations with Mom,” where his mother’s actual voice is juxtaposed with different spoken dialogues and soulful wordless vocals. Hopefully, Jacobs will be sharing more of his sweet and delightfully all over the map innovations with us again in the near future.