Review: Laura Ainsworth “Keep It To Yourself”

Laura Ainsworth “Keep It To Yourself”

01 Nov, 2011 Matt Warnock

It isn’t often that a musician who makes a living writing and recording some of the best comedy bits and songs during the day, steps up on stage at night in jazz clubs and venues with her ensemble of world-class jazz musicians.  But, this is just the scenario that Texas based Laura Ainsworth finds herself in, comedian by day, jazz vocalist by night.  Not the normal pedigree for a jazz performer, but one that works for the talented composer, arranger and songstress, giving her a unique sound and vocal quality that, though may not be the right mix for every jazz fan, it definitely helps her stand out among the crowd.

Ainsworth brings her unique approach to jazz to her new album Keep it to Yourself, which features a mixture of American Songbook standards, pop classics and new works written for the talented vocalist.  The album starts with the quirky, tongue-in-cheek, title track that showcases the adult contemporary side of Ainsworth’s artistic output.  The song has a deep groove, emphasized by the heavy bass sound that, at least rhythmically and harmonically, will bring to mind Sade and other pop-jazz vocalists.  The addition of the organ lines in the background, layering behind the vocals, is a nice touch that brings an extra layer of musical interest to the track, which is one of the highlights of the album, and one that is getting attention from AC radio stations at the moment, and deservedly so.

Though this track is more pop than jazz, there is plenty of swinging tracks on the album, including some lesser-known classics by the likes of Johnny Mercer, “Midnight Sun,” Cole Porter, “Love for Sale,” and the Mercer-Hoagy Carmichael fan-favorite, “Skylark.”  Each of these songs brings to light the sense of jazzy swing and melodic phrasing that Ainsworth inherited from her father, the well-known jazz saxophonist Billy Ainsworth.  Each song, as well as the other jazz influenced tracks on the record, is supported by a strong rhythm section, which includes John Adams and Mike Drake, helping to lay down a solid groove, keep the time moving forward and provide the perfect harmonic and rhythmic cushion for Ainsworth’s vocal melodies.

As a vocalist, Ainsworth floats between the pop and jazz worlds on each of the album’s twelve tracks.  Whether she’s interpreting a pop classic such as “Dream a Little Dream of Me” or Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose,” Ainsworth is consistently distinct with her approach to phrasing, articulation and vocal timbre.  One thing that may not appeal to traditional jazz fans is her sense of vibrato, which tends to be longer and more drawn out than one would expect from a purely jazz vocalist, but this is where the line is blurred in Ainsworth’s music, blending pop and jazz together to form her own personalized style.

Overall, Keep It to Yourself is a solid release from the Dallas based vocalist and arranger.  Ainsworth does an admirable job of bringing together a top-notch ensemble to interpret these twelve tracks that blend the pop and jazz worlds in a fresh and unique way.  Though the record may not totally appeal to traditional jazz fans, it will be a nice introduction to the jazz genre for fans of pop and adult contemporary music, something that jazz can use these days as its market share and audience sizes shrink on an almost weekly basis.  There is something very appealing about a musician with a sense of humor, and Ainsworth definitely brings that tongue-in-cheek approach to her music, which only furthers her relationship with the audience and allows her to stand out in the crowded vocal jazz arena.

Review by Matthew Warnock
Rating:  3 stars (out of 5)