Tessa Souter | Picture in Black and White

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Jazz: Jazz Vocals World: Middle East Contemporary Moods: Type: Vocal
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Picture in Black and White

by Tessa Souter

Inspired by her discovery at age 28 that her birth father was black, Picture in Black and White, traces Tessa's musical "DNA" from Africa to the Caribbean, Celtic Britain and Andalusian Spain - a world of exotic sounds, unusual meters and ancestral ghosts
Genre: Jazz: Jazz Vocals
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Kothbiro
4:17 $0.99
2. Contemplation (Ancestors)
4:07 $0.99
3. A Taste of Honey
3:31 $0.99
4. Dancing Girl / Where the Streets Have No Name
5:04 $0.99
5. Ana Maria's Song (Ana Maria)
3:39 $0.99
6. Child of Love
4:10 $0.99
7. Picture in Black and White
3:43 $0.99
8. You Don't Have to Believe
3:45 $0.99
9. Reynardine
4:27 $0.99
10. Siren Song
5:53 $0.99
11. Lonely Woman
5:16 $0.99
12. Nothing Will Be as It Was
3:03 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Jazz singing is all about freedom, and for Tessa Souter, that liberty involves crossing borders and delving into other cultures for the wisdom they contain. In her work you’ll hear echoes of Africa, South America, and the Caribbean, of folk and Arabic music, all filtered through a post-bop jazz sensibility. Her clear, penetrating voice has a searching quality and a sense of unrest.

So does her life. Before she was eighteen, Tessa, who was born in London, had borne a son, the product of a short-lived marriage. While still a young woman she began a journalism career; it blossomed when she moved to San Francisco. So did a lifelong interest in singing. At the age of forty she relocated to New York, her current home, where two jazz-vocal pioneers, Mark
Murphy and Sheila Jordan, taught her their art.

But Tessa sounds like no one but herself, and that extends to her repertoire. She has always looked beyond the standards and even beyond love songs to find material that explores issues of personal identity, of finding one’s place in the world. Sometimes she writes the songs herself. In this richly atmospheric album—her fifth—she tells a story about the feelings that were triggered inside her when she met her estranged birth father, a black man from Trinidad. The connection cleared up some riddles in her life and created new ones. A DNA test revealed a rainbow of different ancestries, seven of them from African countries.

The songs on this disc comprise her journey through a world “somewhere between time and space”—a place of exotic sounds and unusual meters, mythic characters and ancestral ghosts. “A Taste of Honey” was written by two Americans, Bobby Scott and Ric Marlow, but it uses Elizabethan English to tell a tale of lovers torn tragically apart. Tessa sees it as a metaphor for Africans who were forced out of their country and into slavery, and the people they left behind. “Kothbiro” is by Ayub Ogada, a singer and film actor from Kenya. Dubbing her voice into a choir, Tessa sings in Dholuo, the country’s main language. The simple episode she recounts—that of a young man who tells his mother to bring in the cattle before it rains—becomes another tale of longing for the homeland many Africans lost.

“Child of Love” is by Jon Lucien, her friend and fan. Lucien lost two children, one in a swimming-pool accident and the other in TWA Flight 800. His song makes Tessa think of parents and children who are torn apart for all kinds of reasons. In “Dancing Girl,” the folk and soul singer-guitarist Terry Callier describes a far-off symbol of hope, “bright like a falling star.” Tessa combines that rarity with U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” For her the song evokes Africa, the legacy of slavery, and the yearning for freedom and home.

“Contemplation” comes from a 1967 Blue Note album by McCoy Tyner. He called the song, which he composed, “the sound of a man alone … reflecting on the meaning of life.” The lyric, by singer Vicki Burns, speaks of ancestors who call out from the past with information to share. For Tessa, the ancestor was her father, and the self-awareness he unleashed in her is everywhere in this recording.

—James Gavin, New York City, 2018
[James Gavin’s books include biographies of Chet Baker, Lena Horne, and Peggy Lee. He is a two-time recipient of ASCAP’s Deems Taylor-Virgil Thomson Award for excellenCE in music journalism.]



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