We owe the glorious, sweetly emotive, cool hipster swinging of veteran vocalist Vicki Burns’ latest eclectic album of standards and a few charming, impactful originals to her dad introducing her years ago to the music of Ella Fitzgerald. Not long after Burns first heard Ella in her teens, she got the jazz bug and boldly declared, “I’m not going to rest until I figure out how to scat like Ella.”
There are a literally tons of memorable and powerful moments on Lotus Blossom Days, but you can judge for yourself if she’s succeeded on her mission by training your ears on “It’s Over Now/Well You Needn’t,” where Burns’ transcendent swirling scat passages dart and romp in a blissful, wild back and forth conversation with pianist Art Hirahara’s snazzy piano solos.
That zip-paced piece by Thelonious Monk with lyrics added by Mike Ferro capture the unique thematic aesthetic of the collection, which finds Burns - vibing thoughtfully/gleefully with her sensitive yet free-spirited, always ready to improvise crew of NYC based Bay Area transplants – artfully re-imagining tunes (“Del Sasser,” “The Sidewinder,” Billy Strayhorn’s “Lotus Blossom Days” and “Bittersweet”) that began life as legendary jazz instrumentals before narratives were added.
Those gems form the foundation of an insightful concept album that finds Burns, nearly 15 years after her previous release (way too long!) fashioning a musical love story that takes us from sparkle, seduction and spell (via one of her two gorgeous original ballads ‘”Love Spell”) through the bittersweet darkness when things don’t pan out and, finishing on an uplifting note, reflecting on a little hard won wisdom.
Although Lotus Blossom Days is filled with the richness of some of the world’s greatest jazz composers, the humble tune offering the sweetest sense of this hope is the poetic subtly Latin tinged “You Don’t Have To Believe,” penned by Burns’ vocalist friend Tessa Souter. For Burns, it’s been a long journey since those early days digging Ella, highlighted by with educational and professional stints on both coasts. Here’s hoping this vibrant collection propels her into a more prolific recording career with equally resonant storytelling.