It’s rare that boldly authentic artistry is critically acclaimed and gorgeously graceful. Sacramento, California jazz vocalist Beth Duncan’s adventurously accessible musicality and pristine satiny vocals—expressive but crystalline—have earned her impressive acclaim and exposure for an indie artist.
Her latest release, Come The Fall, debuted at #26 on CMJ’s Jazz Top 40 charts, right below Diana Krall. Tracks from the album have been played on more than 110 stations nationally, along with stations in Canada, Kobe, Japan, Australia and The Netherlands. Reviews for Come The Fall have been overwhelmingly positive. Thisisbooksmusic.com praised Duncan’s voice saying: “she could blow away the countless ‘talent’ who are making millions from not having voices at all.” Midwestrecord.com has said Duncan is: “seemingly a hidden treasure if you aren’t conversant with the NoCal jazz scene.”
Come The Fall is a sweetly sophisticated collection of stunning originals by composer Martine Tabilio and imaginative arrangements of cherished jazz standards. The album’s innovative sultriness coalesced when Beth and Martine first crossed paths. “Her work inspired me to move forward—it felt vintage but new—it gave me a launching pad,” Duncan says. Tabilio contributed the gorgeous title track that Duncan recast from a rubato ballad feel into a lush and sensual samba. The tune simmers with a Latin groove while joyously unfolding with celestial strings and Duncan’s richly expressive vocals. Here her singing has a luxurious flow to it that belies the tune’s tricky vocal melody.
A hallmark of Duncan’s musicality is her flair for interpretation. By herself, or collaborating with her guitarist Steve Homan (a 30 year jazz vet who has performed with legends such as Howard Alden, Herb Ellis, Jimmy Smith, Joe Williams, Hugh Masakela, Anita O’Day and The Nelson Riddle Concert Orchestra), she has a unique touch for edgy arrangements that are broadly appealing. One of the bravest moves on the CD is her vocal rendition of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” For musicians, that track is one of the most daunting compositions ever written. Homan had a new arrangement and challenged Duncan to give it a shot. She navigates the confounding harmonic terrain with silken ease. “There wasn’t a lot of room for bending notes, I had to just purely sing,” Duncan says. Impressed and enamored with her version, jazz stations have played it back to back with Coltrane’s original.
The album was tracked by producer/engineer Guy Kowarsh at Studio G in Rocklin, California. Kowarsh pushed Duncan to add nuances and layers to her recordings, encouraging her to do vocal harmonies and pursue a stunningly orchestral approach within a lean bass, drums, guitar, and vocal format.
Looking back, her lifelong love affair with jazz has taken her on a powerful journey. “As a little kid, my older brother loved jazz. He painted his room black, had bongos, and I would hear Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, and Mel Tormé wafting out of his room,” she says laughing. “That music from down the hall led me to the path I am meant to be on.”