1. Individuality (Can I Be Me?) 4:53
2. Sista 3:59
3. Will You Remember Me? 6:17
4. I Forgive You 5:30
5. I Gotta Go 5:06
6. Why You Wanna Mess It All Up? 5:30
7. Gaia 5:44 $0.89
8. Run To Me 4:04
9. Reflections Of My Heart 5:10
10. Satisfied 5:32
11. I Can Explain
Rachelle Ferrell Piano, Executive Producer, Vocals, Vocals (Background), Main Performer
George Duke Guitar, Keyboard Overdubs, Keyboards
Tony Maiden Guitar
Jef Lee Johnson Guitar (Acoustic), Engineer, Producer, Keyboards, Guitar, Bass
Jonathan Butler Guitar, Vocals
Byron Miller Bass
Lil' John Roberts Drums
Lenny Castro Percussion
Lori Perry Vocals (Background)
Kenny Lattimore Vocals (Background)
Composer, lyricist, arranger, musician and vocalist Rachelle Ferrell is a recent arrival on the contemporary jazz scene, but her visibility on the pop/urban contemporary scene has boosted her audience's interest in her jazz recordings.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Ferrell got started singing in the second grade at age six. This no doubt contributed to the eventual development of her startling six-and-change octave range. She decided early on, after classical training on violin, that she wanted to try to make her mark musically as an instrumentalist and songwriter. In her mid-teens, her father bought her a piano with the provision that she learn to play to a professional level. Within six months, Ferrell had secured her first professional gig as a pianist/singer. She began performing at 13 as a violinist, and in her mid-teens as a pianist and vocalist. At 18, she enrolled in the Berklee College of Music in Boston to study composition and arranging, where her classmates included Branford Marsalis, Kevin Eubanks, Donald Harrison and Jeff Watts. She graduated in a year and taught music for awhile with Dizzy Gillespie for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Through the 1980s and into the early '90s, she'd worked with some of the top names in jazz, including Gillespie, Quincy Jones, George Benson and George Duke.
Ferrell's debut, First Instrument, was released in 1990 in Japan only. Recorded with bassist Tyrone Brown, pianist Eddie Green and drummer Doug Nally, an all-star cast of accompanists also leave their mark on her record. They include trumpeter Terrence Blanchard, pianists Gil Goldstein and Michel Petrucciani, bassists Kenny Davis and Stanley Clarke, tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter and keyboardist Pete Levin. Her unique take on now-standards like Sam Cooke's "You Send Me," Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love," and Rodgers & Hart's "My Funny Valentine," captured the hearts and souls of the Japanese jazz-buying public. In 1995, Blue Note/Capitol released her Japanese debut for U.S. audiences, and the response was similarly positive. Her 1992 self-titled U.S. debut, a more urban pop/contemporary album, was released on Capitol Records. Ferrell was signed to a unique two-label contract, recording pop and urban contemporary for Capitol Records and jazz music for Blue Note Records. For four consecutive years in the early '90s, Ferrell put in festival stopping performances at the Montreaux Jazz Festival.
Although Ferrell has captured the jazz public's attention as a vocalist, she continues to compose and write songs on piano and violin. Ferrell's work ethic has paid off, and Gillespie's predictions about her becoming a "major force" in the jazz industry came true. Her prolific songwriting abilities and ability to accompany herself on piano seem only to further her natural talent as a vocalist.
"Some people sing songs like they wear clothing, they put it on and take it off," she explains in the biographical notes accompanying First Instrument. "But when one performs four sets a night, six nights a week, that experience affords you the opportunity to present the song from the inside out, to express its essence. In this way, a singer expresses the song in the spirit in which it was written. The songwriter translates emotion into words. The singer's job is to translate the words back into emotion."
Ferrell has made her mark not as a straightahead jazz singer and pianist, but as a crossover artist who's equally at home with urban contemporary pop, gospel, classical music and jazz.
The voice! On Individuality Rachelle Ferrell's astonishing instrument (as it certainly deserves to be called) soars and swoops through a six-octave range, which makes her a rarity in the modern R&B of nubile sopranos. Ferrell is as comfortable delivering a deep, velvety growl as a soprano soar. Her work as a jazz singer-songwriter has clearly sharpened her vocal technique and added a perceptive subtlety to the arrangements that accompany it, which dwell in sweet 'n' lowdown, unplugged bass territory. Individuality is a compact, intensely personal album. It covers topics from sisterhood ("Sista") to jilted love ("I Gotta Go"), all through the eyes of a mature woman. With this album's unslick production and sincerity, Ferrell continues to set herself apart from the pack, expanding the parameters of R&B to accommodate her and her voice, not vice versa.
Farrell's self-titled debut was notable for introducing her astonishing, multi-octave instrument of a voice, but the songs and arrangements (with a few exceptions) lacked the personality and singularity her vocals had. Her second release, "First Instrument," was an engaging collection of jazz standards that certainly entertained, but you still had the feeling that something was bubbling under this woman's surface, something deeper and greater. It finally explodes on her third release, "Individuality (Can I Be Me?)," and in an era of teen pop and street-savvy R&B, the question posed in its title seems to address music lovers at large...and any adult in their right mind will certainly answer with a resounding "yes!" The opening track finds Farrell singing, "I'm an individual, I'm into individuality," and may God love her for it.
Farrell has clearly had the revelation that less is more; the tracks are arranged sparsely and feel wide open, the perfect setting for her striking, lushly-chorded jazz/soul compositions. The instrumentation is a treat as well, and covers ground between 70's-flavored Rhodes keyboards and muted guitars to (gasp! in the new millenium, even!) real drums and acoustic piano. What's especially inviting is the jam-session feel that gives way to the impression that you're sitting in on a musician's party instead of hearing mere studio product. Further to her credit, Farrell wrote or co-wrote every track, and the variety of moods is astounding...there's slinky, backporch blues (the title track and "Sista"), elegant pop/soul ("I Forgive You," "I Gotta Go"), slick R&B ("Will You Remember Me?" and "Run to Me") and gently-grooving funk ("Satisfied"). For added bonuses, Johnathan Butler lends hand at writing and singing on "Gaia," an ode to Mother Earth that is musically sophisticated and lyrically touching, and Russ Barnes offers a top-notch vocal on the sultry duet "Reflections of My Heart."
But the crowning achievement is Farrell's use of her voice. There's a shockingly accurate three-octave jump (and a jump down, at that), seemingly effortless shifts in tone and projection, and, most strikingly, the take-no-prisoners experiments she indulges in on the funky "Why You Wanna Mess it All Up?," which include mind-boggling vibrato, noteless and wordless ad libs, and a run of notes sustained for twenty-eight seconds without taking a breath...one can only imagine what reckless vocal takes didn't even make the record.
In the end it becomes perfectly clear that "Individuality" couldn't possibly have a better title. Of course, it's a shame that we probably won't get the chance to witness any of these songs on pop radio as a much-needed breath of fresh air, but then again the beauty of the record lies in Rachelle Farrell's fearless assertion of innovation, trends be damned. She puts it best herself: "If you don't like it/it ain't got to have nothin' to do with you." You go, girl.
I went to the library to get this album, and after I listened to it, I wondered why I didn't listen to it sooner. I've always liked Rachelle Ferrell, and although I haven't heard her other albums, I still think this one might outdo them because I think few people have heard an album as great as this.
I don't know if it's possible to pick any one song as being the best on here, but I'll at least point out some highlights that come to mind. Rachelle can still hit the high notes very well (see "Run To Me") as well as the low notes. Also, the first three songs will sort of make you wish this CD would never end.
Although it's obvious that Rachelle can hold her own on songs, the duets are also stellar. "Gaia" features Jonathan Butler, and although that track is damn good, "Reflections Of My Heart" with Russ Barnes beats it (I don't know who he is, but if he has an album in the works, I wish it came out yesterday). Kenny Lattimore sings background for a few tracks, while the great George Duke takes care of music here and there. That's a winning combination, wouldn't you say?
Another thing about this album is that sometimes the wordplay is more interesting than the lyrics, not that the lyrics are bad. If someone just looked at the lyrics without listening to the songs, for example, s/he might say the lyrics just seem okay, but it all depends on how Rachelle says them.
And speaking of lyrics, the songs on here cover topics that are really original, like on "Will You Remember Me?" where she says to her man: "I understand looking at other women is part of being a man." WHO'S THE TRAITOR THAT TOLD HER THAT??? ...But seriously, Rachelle should have known she had a classic when she wrote (or co-wrote) every track on this album. Pick it up today, because you'll never get tired of listening to it.