Making her debut with I Love, singer/songwriter Cristina Morrison proves to be a performer with potential. She is a skilled vocalist and has certainly studied the craft, but there are moments where it feels as though she’s holding back somewhat and that keeps this record from sticking as much as it should.
Morrison is an American Academy of Dramatic Arts grad and a well-travelled individual. She’s assembled a top-notch band for I Love, including the likes of composer/arranger/saxophonist Christian Hidrobo (Morrison’s longtime colleague and “partner in crime”), trumpeter Walter Szymanski, pianist Steve Einerson, bassists Marcus McLaurine and Alex Alvear, and drummer Willard Dyson.
I Love works best when it feels personal and passionate. Pieces like the beautiful “Perfect Little Storms” capture Morrison’s spirit gracefully.
At times, however, the record is too careful for its own good. As good as the musical backdrop is, there appears to be little room for colouring outside the lines. Morrison’s vocals are exquisite from a technical standpoint and her diction is crystal-clear, but she generally sticks to one gear and that can make things dreary.
This is especially problematic when she tackles the bluesy “Fine and Mellow,” a song that had its bar set and subsequently smashed into itty bitty pieces by the one and only Billie Holiday. The arrangement is wisely lean, but Morrison’s vocals are too passive to capture the mood and snarl of the blues. When she sings about her man being “awful mean,” it’s hard to believe.
Musically, the best track on the album is “Red Mafia & Jass.” It’s a boiling bit of Memphis Horns-inspired brass and Stevie Wonder funk. Guitarist Vinny Valentino tears the roof of with a blistering solo and Alex Harding follows suit with a smoking hot slice of baritone sax.
Overall, I Love lays out a solid foundation for Cristina Morrison. Like many jazz vocalists, the focus on diction and clarity does more harm than good, but there’s no doubting her vocal prowess and passion for the art form. If she finds that next level, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with on a scene desperately in need of one.