Review: Marianne Solivan's 'Prisoner of Love' Best Jazz Vocal Recording Of The Year

The best vocal jazz recording of the year.
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marianne solivanThis is it. Marianne Solivan’s Prisoner of Love is probably the best vocal jazz record of the year. The exquisiteness, expression and sentiment of her singing are supreme and matched only by her skill in enunciation.

The record, produced by Jeremy Pelt, finds Solivan delivering a set of clever pieces with uncommon honesty, sensuality and wisdom.

The Queens-born singer and composer lived with her family in Venezuela and New Jersey before settling in Massachusetts. She attended high school there and began studying classical voice, having already played alto saxophone. She appeared in some school productions and subsequently entered The Boston Conservatory after graduation, concentrating in musical theatre.

Despite drifting somewhat from singing, Solivan eventually returned to the well and earned a dual degree in Music Performance and Education at Berklee College of Music. She taught music for a year prior to heading to the New England Conservatory and grabbing a Master’s in Jazz Studies.

While her educational components are impressive, it’s her exceptional capability to climb inside the soul of the material that makes her fly. She is well beyond the go-through-the-motions singers of the genre by an enormous margin.

Solivan’s genius is amplified by one hell of a brilliant crew, comprising guitarist Peter Bernstein, pianist Xavier Davis, pianist Michael Kanan, bassists Christian McBride and Ben Wolfe, and drummer Johnathan Blake. Pelt provides a little trumpeting on Artie Shaw’s “Moon Ray.”

Though the make-up of the musicians changes, the flawless tones and striking sentiments purified through her vocals never falter.

“The music comes from a long tradition of jazz vocal repertoire without diving into the clichés that we are all very tired of,” she explains. “The music is sincere, passionate, bold, and very unique to what I do…Together we told stories of love: lost, stolen, broken, desperate, and lonely.”

Truly, Prisoner of Love runs the gamut of that most terrifying and terrible of human experiences. Whether she’s singing of regret on the sombre and sophisticated “May I Come In” or rejoicing in the anxiety of love on Cole Porter’s terrific “After You,” Solivan is as potent and refined as need be.

She even gets the group swinging hard on the dynamic and aptly-titled “I Can’t Help It.” Solivan brings her swagger and attests that she can’t bottle up her verve if she tried.

She fits the band like a glove, sashaying onto their exquisite surfaces without hogging the spotlight. Her subtle tones are matched by graceful piano-playing, while her driving notes are driven home by a dynamic rhythm section. Prisoner of Love showcases Solivan’s gifts in cool-as-hell style, proving that there’s nothing this heartfelt songstress can’t do.