Sacha Boutros goes jazz bare in ‘NY After Dark’

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Sacha Boutros wanted to strip away all the fusions — she can sing in 10 different languages — and go back to pure, unadulterated, moody jazz. In “NY After Dark,” she brings in the city’s heavy hitters (John di Martino, Peter Washington, Terell Stafford, Lewis Nash) to help. CREDIT: Laura Bravo Mertz

Aspiring jazz artists usually get their feet wet with standards and the Great American Songbook for their debut album, before venturing into the tricky territory of fusions, depending on their skill set, interest, and confidence level.

Not San Diego-based vocalist/songwriter Sacha Boutros. She came out guns blazing, with a multi-fusion debut just a few short years ago, like a veteran.

Her Simply Sacha came out in 2008 loaded with different musical styles and sung in five different languages — all with the young and lovely singer’s sexy, breezy flair reminiscent of the Jobim period. A Live In Hawaii album followed in 2011, showing off Boutros’ natural affinity for the jazz give and take, with her band and the audience.

Her next, upcoming album, NY After Dark, is perhaps her best. She dispenses with any extravagance and simply lets her soft, supple, sensual voice make love to the standards.

In moments when it’s appropriate for the music to fill in the lyrical gaps, she lets her New York band — the exquisitely intuitive pianist John di Martino, the understated, sophistication of Lewis Nash on drums, the classically trained rock star bassist Peter Washington, and Terell Stafford burning on his trumpet — go to town on straight-ahead jazz interplay solos, with a contemporary flair.

“This CD is like an old record with standards arranged in a modern way, with New York’s finest performing alongside me,” Boutros described. “It was recorded in New York and with New York cats. The songs were what I would typically do in a New York set, so I decided to call it ‘NY After Dark,’ as it’s moody jazz.”

Is it ever, in the finest sense.

Sacha Boutros can sing the pants off a song like nobody else, whether she’s turning it up in a bluesy, teasing duet with Lewis Nash in “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You,” divulging a little Jobim shakedown in “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” or having a little fun in a song she wrote about her Latin family, “Sa.Cha.Cha.”

The hits keep coming off this upcoming album. “I Have Thought Of You,” another original composition, really spotlights Boutros’ platinum ear. It’s a new jazz standard that could easily find a place on mainstream radio. This is the one that lingers, long after the listening’s done. It’ll make you wish you were in love.

A rare but essential quality to any jazz vocalist is phrasing. Boutros’ choice phrasing elevates her to the level of the greats. She can take any song — Sting’s “Fragile,” a Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh special, “The Best Is Yet To Come,” made popular by Frank Sinatra, popular, 1939 British tune “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” — and parse the words meaningfully, giving standards a brand new make-over.

Sinatra made “A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square” an indelibly masculine, foregone conclusion. But Boutros came and stole that honor away, hitting restart with the youthfully affectionate phrasing of the finest romantic poetry, reinvigorating an older standard into an adult contemporary masterpiece told through the magical filter of a hopeful girl. The way she tenderly caresses the melodic sweet spots is her signature breakthrough.

Jazz Medium©: Feeling the music, one review at a time.

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