There it is, embedded in Mark Stryker’s illuminating liner notes to Susan Tobocman’s heartfelt, swinging, bossa-tinged latest album Touch & Go. In three words, the veteran Detroit bred, NYC based jazz vocalist and songwriter and international touring artist tells us everything we need to know to understand her eclectic approach to composing, song selection, tempo variation and spirited phrasing: “I’m a storyteller.”
Having won the prestigious National Scholastic Writing Award for Poetry at 17, this passion for engaging narratives has been part of her life long before she became a professional singer. When the 12-track collection launches with a warmly inviting, brisk romp through Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do,” it seems to set the stage for a high end set of standards showcasing her sultriness, wit and breezy interaction with a batch of top flight NYC musicians – including longtime bandmate Pete McCann (guitar), Henry Hey (pianist) and, adding sensual textures throughout, cellist Dave Eggar.
Yet what unfolds from there is a refreshing multi-faceted journey into Tobocman’s expansive artistry. Yes, she is aces finding multi-hued ways to spin Great American Songbook classics (“The Man I Love”) and rock era gems – including a graceful female centered reworking of “Wichita Lineman”), a peppy strut through the James Bond theme “You Only Live Twice” and delicate waltz and rock-edged ballad versions of The Beatles’ “Help” It says a lot about her ability to seamlessly weave thoughtful poetic lyrics and compelling melodies that her three original vocals not only stand confidently among the legendary tunes, but also make you wonder if these were just old obscurities from long ago that we somehow missed.
Tobocman also takes what amounts to as an extraordinary step for a singer of her formidable talents by including two original instrumentals for her ensemble to let loose on – the dreamy and whimsical “Leaves of Absence” (featuring Joel Frahm’s inspired soprano soling) and the jaunty, optimistic title track. After two live albums documenting her work in Detroit with the Cliff Monear Trio, Touch & Go marks an auspicious glimpse into Tobocman’s exciting future.