Andrea Claburn debuts vocal instrumental ‘Nightshade’
Andrea Claburn

Finding the key to Andrea Claburn’s vocal heart takes awhile, maybe a couple dozen listens to get to. The San Francisco-based jazz artist’s Jan. 13 debut album Nightshade features all the right strokes, a hot, working band, smooth, malleable vocals, sophisticated, mature takes on seven standards and five originals.

Her working band includes guys she’s gigged with plenty of times, and it shows. Pianist Matt Clark holds the album together with a steady, inventive, hand, alto saxophonist Kasey Knudsen sustains the second vocal narrative with enticing grooves lyrics cannot capture (“Bird On A Wire”), and bassist Sam Bevan/drummer Alan Hall never miss a note or a mood.

Guest musicians, Grammy-winning violinist/violist Mads Tolling, guitarist Terrence Brewer, trumpeter/flugelhornist Erik Jekabson, and percussionist John Santos lend tremendous depth to the tracks and to the tonal, horn quality of Claburn’s vocals (“Infinite Wisdom”). Jekabson and Santos also taught Claburn at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley where she readied herself before recording her first album as a bandleader.

Claburn debuts her vocals, her songwriting/arranging chops, and her ability to shine and let others shine before her on this debut album.

It’s most evident on the Duke Ellington cover, “Echoes Of Harlem” (retitled “Infinite Wisdom”), which she lyricizes seamlessly, arranged with a sexy, slinky Latin flair brought forth brilliantly by the horns and the percussion.

As a budding songwriter, Claburn doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel or the genre. She works with the melodic and harmonic structure in the original tune, picking and choosing rhythmic words to evoke the feel and strike the chord.

She definitely comes to the party, ready to vamp.

She phrases this interlude bridge to suit her taste, slowing the jazz-rap about a player nicely, playing around with the meaning of tone: “That’s okay I know you now. I’m hip to what ya do and how. Got ya number, your disguise, I seen through all your pretty lies, so wave goodbye, I’m goin’ uptown…”

On Claburn’s own song, “My Favorite Flavor,” she stands out, which is quite a feat amongst seven tremendous jazz standards known and beloved throughout the years, like Betty Carter’s “I Can’t Help It,” Bill Evans’ “Turn Out The Stars,” and Pat Metheny’s “Bird On A Wire.”

Her voice is bright, cheery, and perfectly matched with the New Orleans second-line horns marching toward another late-night party with the razzamatazz rollicking ice cream parlor piano, “rocking in rhythm.”

Love the way she cavalierly tosses out “baby you know you’re my favorite flavor,” with a sashay on the last word. So much personality in that lyric, and the key to capturing the rest of her personality in future recordings.

“My Favorite Flavor” is also an up tempo, upbeat exception to an otherwise bluesy, slow-moving kind of album.

Claburn composed five of the original songs, arranging all but Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark.”

She may have taken only three days to finish her first record, but it took her 10 years of serious study and on-the-job training performing to reach the point where she felt ready to share her own ideas.

“Although I was performing regularly and getting positive responses from audiences, I resisted laying down a CD, because I didn’t want to just do songs and arrangements written by other people,” Claburn said in a press release from Mouthpiece Music. “I had my own concepts, but I didn’t have the skills yet to realize them. So, I started studying seriously, first with Raz Kennedy, one of the premier vocal coaches in Northern California, and then at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, where I earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies.” She is also a vocal faculty member at CJC, since 2015.

Claburn’s ease around jazz music speaks to her upbringing. Conservatory-trained, the award-winning vocalist grew up with a pretty big deal of a classical pianist mom, whom she looked up to. She also learned to play instruments first from a very young age, the piano at six and the violin at eight. “I think like an instrumentalist, because that’s where everything began for me,” Claburn added.