"Highly original songwriting in wildly contrasting styles ****" The Guardian/The Observer
‘Your work is logical and effective, this seems to come naturally to you.’ Gary Burton, Berklee College of Music, Boston, USA
Jazz Journal June 2017
Look Back and Love
Sue McCreeth comes as a breath of fresh air to a scene where vocal jazz is often represented by the Great American Songbook, attempts to render Dylan, Cohen and Nick Cave as jazz, and more or less harmony-free poeticisms. Well, “fresh air” may be debated since she picks up where the 70s and 80s left off, but refreshing it is to hear again colourful chromatic harmony mixed with modal groove, the kind of thing ejected too son from the jazz canon by the Marsalis effect.
She says the records that made her hungry fro wha she calls the “modern post-60s feel” were Wayne Shorter’s Native Dancer, Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way, Chick Corea’s work with Flora Purim and Airto Moreiro, and Cassandra Wilson’s Travelling Miles.
“Airto Moreira’s Lilia blows my mind still. I also listened a lot to Erykah Badu in the 90s and I heard a lot of Pat Metheny and John Scofield. I had a driving need to tap into this 60s and post 60s kind of jazz, even though I was playing jazz standards in my day job, playing piano and singing in hotels. Recently I have been listening to a lot of Laura Nyro. I go through stages of listening to her songs, and my song ‘Til I Am In the Wrong Place is influenced by Billy Childs’ Map To The Treasure album which features great contemporary singers and a wonderful jazz line-up including Wayne Shorter.”
Sue was born in North Weald, Essex, in 1960 to an RAF family, emulating in childhood Nancy Sinatra, Lonnie Donegan and Ella Fitzgerals – as so often in youth, whatever came to hand. Then another kind of modernism intervened before she fully engaged with jazz. She apologises (contrasting herself with “the great singers who studied at the University of Life”) for having A level music. Armed with that, she studied Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Boulez and others at the University of Sussex in the late 80s, and while she doesn’t ever sound directly like those stern serialists, one wonders if the darkness which characterises much of her music doesn’t derive in part from the grave moods they generated.
The hotel jobs in the late 90s perhaps contributed to her powerful low register: “I was working my way through a pile of standards and soul repertoire. I was able to put the songs in keys which really created a low level background vibe, with a really low sound in the voice.” This quality is often noticeable in her music, but she spans many other registers too. Despite her modernist slant, she says “My favourite voice and style is the early Sarah Vaughan. The impossible sweetness and innocence in her voice at that time takes my breath away. The lightness, spice and height in Erykah Badu’s voice, the freedom and abandon of Flora Purim. I try to get the soulfulness of Claire Martin and Liane Carroll, the elegance and coolness of Norma Winstone.
“My voice is called mixed voice. I have a strong low register but also a soprano. I have a particular kind of sound for the mid and break register, whee I think about Sheila Ferguson of The Three Degrees, and the young Sarah Vaughan and then a jazzy, sould kind of high voice, where I aim for something a bit like Minnie Riperton. But my main influence has been my amazing vocal coach Joy Mammen, who has worked with my voice to optimise the facility in each register.”
Thre’s a gap in the discography from 2004 when Sue was diagnosed with high-functioning, late-onset paranoid schizophrenia. She points to a fractured family background (evinced on her new album in Mother Sister Father Brothers My Man Child and His Mama – “my life story in brief”) and the stress of late-night gigs combined with early morning music teaching. [This diagnosis was changed in September 2018 to compex trauma].
Part of her return to action has included studies at Berklee, where Gary Burton endorsed her natural approach. Norma Winstone has said “I really like your completely unaffected way of singing”. She says of herself “I still have a very young sound in my voice, and there is a certain innocence which I cannot help”. Her unaffected pursuit of honest expression through modern harmony is what will particularly appeal in her part-new, part-retrospective album Look Back and Love (Tru-Nu 355), released 2 June, and her forthcoming live dates.
Sat Nam, semi-finalist International Songwriting Competition 2003, there were 11,000 entries
She Want Him, semi-finalist International Songwriting Competition 2011, there were 16,000 entries
London Jazz News
INTERVIEW: Sue McCreeth (CD Look Back and Love – Launch 29 May Pizza Express Dean Street)
Singer SUE McCREETH launches her latest album, “Look Back and Love” at Pizza Express Dean Street on Monday 29th May and plays gigs across the UK over the next few months. Compiled from her five previous albums, “Look Back and Love” finds the singer taking stock – and yet also looking ahead with four new tracks included. Interview by Rob Adams:
LondonJazz News: What made you look back at your career and compile “Look Back and Love” at this stage in your life and career; how do you feel your music’s changed over these fifteen years?
Sue McCreeth: I wanted to collect the very best of my writing, recent and less recent. I feel that my music has changed from searching for original sounds, to searching for authentic sounds. I’m developing all of my songs all of the time.
LJN: In selecting the tracks for the album, what were you looking to highlight?
SM: I chose the strongest vocal recordings to feature, and the most diverse compositions. I wanted to make a cd which would be good company on a long drive. I wanted people to experience the sublime beauty that all the musicians featured on this cd have brought to my music.
LJN: When and how did you get into singing jazz; was there one – or 101 – artist who made you think, I want to do that!?
SM: It’s closer to 101! It started with a vinyl record called ‘The Incomparable Ella’, and at the age of 12 I could squeak my way through all 16 tracks, including improvisations. I saw Ella live on my 24th birthday. I love the sounds of Sarah Vaughan and Anita O’Day, and later I found Betty Carter and Shirley Horn. I’ve seen many American jazz stars in London, including the late Mark Murphy, Rebecca Parris, Shirley Horn and Flora Purim. The British jazz singers who have inspired me are Liane Carroll, Claire Martin, Tina May, Christine Tobin, Anita Wardell and Norma Winstone. All these singers have taught me that what matters is finding ones own unique voice.
LJN: When and how did you get into composing?
SM: I was writing songs from the age of 9, singing and playing guitar. After finishing my music degree in composition from Sussex University I started listening to and emulating some of the approaches of jazz luminaries such as Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Laura Nyro, Flora Purim, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul.
LJN: Can you describe your writing process for us; do you think of lyrics first, melody first or come up with a mood you want to work in and take it from there?
SM: I start with harmony, and then write the melody by picking out the notes I want to hear in the voice within each chord. Finally, I concentrate hard to write the lyrics.
LJN: What impact did studying improvisation with Gary Burton and composition with Joseph Mulholland at Berklee have on your approach to music?
SM: I am now confident about various ways of exploring harmony that I did not use before, and I have many scale choices in my voice for improvisation. I can also express my ideas more confidently in my arrangements. Gary and Joe have given me the highest possible grades for work I have done with them, and Joe has heard and praised all of my previous writing. My songwriting is used within Berklee as teaching material by Joe, and he collaborates with me too. All of this has had a beneficial impact upon my confidence as a composer and improvising musician.
LJN: You were out of action through illness for some time; what part did music play in the healing process?
SM: Music has helped me to feel more real and connected with the world. Invariably I make music with fantastically talented musicians, and rational coherent thought that is involved in writing, soothes the influence of memories, triggers and panic.
LJN: SatNam and Ettu Enna are intriguing tracks; can you tell us a bit about them?
SM: I wrote Sat Nam in 2000 whilst working in Dubai as a pianist/vocalist. Ettu Enna means, ‘What is this?’ in Tamil. At present I am developing my understanding of and competence with Indian ragas and bringing them into my music more authentically. I study and rehearse with an Indian based colleague over skype.
LJN: Who are you listening to at the moment; do you have any recent discoveries you’d like to share with London Jazz News readers?
SM: Carmen Lundy, Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, Lalah Hathaway, Jill Scott and Sabine Kabongo have influenced me. Also Laura Nyro’s songs as sung on ‘Map to the Treasure’ are incredibly varied, especially in the voices of great singers such as Renee Fleming, Lisa Fischer, Dianne Reeves and Esperanza Spalding. A while ago I was listening to Erykah Badu on my daily journeys into the West End for my piano/vocal gigs. ‘Only Here’ is my song for Erykah.
LJN: What can audiences expect to hear – and feel – on your upcoming concerts?
SM: There will be Indian and Arabic sounds in my own fusion songs, many languages, and also ‘The Touch of Your Lips’ and ‘Twentieth Century Blues’ for the mainstream jazz fans. I hope audiences will feel excited by the energy, variety and exuberance of my music, and my fantastic band. (pp)
LINK: Sue McCreeth website
Look Back and Love
This sixth album from singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sue McCreeth presents an eclectic anthology of some of her finest original recordings over the last 15 years, including the rim shot driven ‘Only Here’, the decidedly trippy ‘Nut Tree’, and the modal explorations of ‘Other Times We Fly’. Twice shortlisted for the International Songwriting Competition, there’s also a quartet of new songs, all of which are highlights. ‘Keep This Love Safe’ is a ballad which packs real dramatic heft, while the enigmatically titled ‘Mother Sister Father Brothers My Man Child and His Mama’ documents the pain of not receiving love from within your own family, and the joy of finding it elsewhere. Recorded live at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, ‘Til I Am In The Wrong Place’ is a disquieting, brooding slice of urban angst. By contract, the outer-spacious ‘Infinity’ casts a warm glow and brings the collection to a beatific close.
Look Back and Love
As a singer-songwriter, Sue McCreeth is highly unusual in two ways. First, she takes as her starting point not a few words or snatch of melody, but a harmonic idea. This comes, perhaps from having studied with Gary Burton and Joe Mulholland at Berklee, the “jazz university” in Boston. Second, she alters her singing voice quite radically to suit the character of individual songs. As a result, the sheer contrast from one song to another, while very effective, can be a little bewildering until you get used to it. This anthology, drawn from her previous five albums, with a few new pieces added, provides an impressive introduction.
SUE McCREETH - Look Back & Love
Sue McCreeth - vocals, guitar, keys; John Donaldson, Mike Varty, John Horler, Paul Harrison - keys; Dave Green, Andrew Cleyndert, Mario Caraibe, - bass; Steve Brown, Mark Fletcher, Stuart Brown, Steve Brown - drums; Andres Ticino - percussion; Martin Shaw - trumpet; Ian Salmon - guitar and bass guitar
This is an anthology of work from at least four different sessions over the last fifteen years, the consistency provided by McCreeth’s cool, controlled delivery, pitched in an intimate sounding mid-register, and her songwriting style, which occupies the same territory between confessional folk balladry, fusiony jazz and adult-oriented rock that was explored by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny or John Martyn in the late seventies and early eighties. Like those artists, McCreeth has availed herself of the services of some of the finest jazz players available; it’s a real delight to hear underexposed piano master John Donaldson and veteran bassist Dave Green take flight on their sessions; ‘Sat Nam’ sees them exploiting the plentiful space afforded by McCreeth’s relatively harmonically static composition to cook up some groovy Fender Rhodes explorations.
The sessions with the awesome trio of Horler, Cleyndert and Fletcher are equally notable for the band’s contributions - ‘The Dancer’ makes effective use of an odd-number meter to create a dark, exotic mood and provides the jumping-off point for some exciting jamming. The mood is reflective and gently inspirational, with the lyrics exploring personal themes; ‘Mother Sister Father Brothers’ conjures up echoes of the Carpenters for a heartfelt tribute to personal relationships - ‘Other Times We Fly’ has Martin Shaw adding thoughtful trumpet for a spacious ballad. There are echoes of Flora Purim’s features with the early editions of Return To Forever as well, or Gayle Moran’s work with Corea, as well as smooth jazz minimalists like Sade.
Though McCreeth’s unaffected performances are consistent and all the bands are great, the album struggles to create a coherent personality from the different sessions; the more ‘studio’ based session with Mike Varty sits uneasily alongside the spontaneously played band sessions, and the increased level of production on the former occasionally sounds dated and undercooked. Still, there’s plenty here that would enhance a JazzFm playlist.
Reviewed by Eddie Myer
Wednesday, June 07, 2017
BE-BOP SPOKEN HERE
CD Review: Sue McCreeth - Look Back And Love
Sue McCreeth (vocal); Paul Harrison, John Horler (piano); Mario Caribe, Andrew Cleyndert (bass); Stu Brown (drums); Martin Shaw (trumpet) Many other musicians listed for various tracks, these are the main ones.
(Review by Ann Alex).
You could read this review, or you could go to the website, www.suemccreeth.comand play the video of the Sat Nam, and you’ll get a good idea of what this superb singer and her various musicians are all about. Dave Gelly of the Observer writes ...’ She sings with warmth and intimacy, and commands a wonderful flexibility (in) her vocal tone’... I couldn’t have explained it better.
Ms McCreeth is a singer, songwriter and multi instrumentalist who has led ensembles down South since 2000 and this is her sixth album, which is an anthology of her songwriting work so far, together with 4 new songs. She studied improvisation and also composition via the Berklee College of Music.
The CD gives us mostly love songs of various moods, beginning with Sat Nam, wordless vocals with a folky eastern feel, followed by She Want Him, in which the singer almost becomes one of the instruments in the band. Other notable tracks are the rocky Nut Tree (guitar and keys with a regular drum beat and electronic effects); The Air Is Blue (atmospheric, cool, blue, guitar sound);Mother
Sister Father Brothers My Man Child & His Mama (a new song which is a message to her relatives
‘With my new love
I finally knew love
With my own sweet man child’.
The longest track at 9.28 minutes is Only Here, a love song which is atmospheric rather than narrative, with constant repetition of ‘You and I’.
Most of the songs are with the standard trio of piano, bass and drums, with most solos taken by the piano, and it goes without saying that the musicians are skilled. If you like to hear brass with singers, this CD won’t supply that as Martin Shaw only appears on 2 of the tracks. The singer is out on tour this year but the nearest gig to us is Edinburgh on June 18.
The CD was launched on May 29 at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, London, and was released on June 2 by Discovery Records.
Look Back and Love
Highly original songwriting in wildly contrasting styles.
“2016 is witness to Sue fulfilling her considerable promise, … an impeccable production.” The Musician Magazine on ‘Queer Bird’
Jazz Journal August 2017 ****
Inside the Cover of this CD are 11 small photographs of Sue McCreeth that, at first glance, seem to suggest 11 different women. The differences are mainly in hair colour and arrangement but the difference in her music from track to track here is much more marked – perhaps no surprise as this CD anthologises 15 years of work.
Her voice is full and flowing with deep resonances and dark harmonies. She stretches her voice in word and wordless format on Sat Nam as the rhythm section provide a pulsing beat. She Want Him is full of stretched-out long notes as the backing group slow down the tempi to ballad time; a very different approach to the opening selection. John Horler’s boppish piano provides a familiar jazz hook but the voice is different: probing, searching, stretching for fresh sounds. Although very much in a supporting role throughout, the accompanying musicians make a vital contribution to the end result.
Keep This Love Safe is more conventional (slightly) with Sue’s voice tracing a love call against a sturdy ballad backing and Salmon’s guitar injecting a blues call. Electric piano on several tracks gives the illusion of late 70s music but it is only illusion; the voice is new jazz throughout. Every track on this 70+ minute disc is fresh and slightly different to the one before it and Ms McCreeth is offering a new look at jazz singing that is all her own. It’s all original material, and it would be illuminating, I suspect, to hear what she does with a jazz standard. But the original compositions are strong and very personal, as indeed is her voice throughout.