Album Review of Stripped by Macy Gray.
Release Date: Sep 9, 2016
Record label: Chesky Records
Genre(s): Jazz, Adult Contemporary R&B, Contemporary Jazz Vocals
Just as in the days of Bessie Smith during the roaring 20s, Macy Gray and her band recorded this album positioned around a single microphone. Back then, the technology was primitive by today’s standards, so why take a retrograde step and record using a method which was quickly discarded as sound equipment and recording techniques improved? Well, the fact is that the microphone used on this particular session is ultra-sophisticated and records not only in stereo but also in 3D surround sound. The intention is to capture music and make it sound as if the listener is in the same room as the musicians and certainly, producers and label owners, David and Norman Chesky, achieve that effect with this wonderful album, which finds the quirky Ohio-born singer backed by a jazz quartet that includes guitarist Russell Malone and trumpeter Wallace Roney.
Macy Gray is in a self-conscious phase of her career. The Grammy-winning artist is recognized, not yet revered; accomplished but not yet an aspirational figure. This 10-track effort finds the 49-year-old taking the full-out jazz route in reinterpreting her earlier material — and why not?Gray's inimitable rasp does the job in conveying improvisational sounds while complementing the talents of bassist Daryl Johns and trumpeter Wallace Roney.
Now, this is what Macy Gray was supposed to be doing all along. Stripped, her triumphant first LP for Chesky Records, is like putting a needle down on wax, hearing sounds echo through speakers and simultaneously seeing a lightbulb go off above your own head. Why did it take her this long to do a blues/jazz record? And why, oh why, hasn’t anyone ever thought to turn “She Ain’t Right for You” into a five-minute faux-reggae romp that would play as well in Miami as it would in Montreux? Backed by a stellar quartet featuring Ari Hoenig on drums, Daryl Johns on bass, Russell Malone on guitar, and Wallace Roney on trumpet, this set feels as raw as it does real, as organic as it does inspiring.
Recorded for Chesky as part of the label's Binaural+ series, this session, Macy Gray's ninth proper studio album, was caught by a single microphone in a Brooklyn church. Backed by a quartet featuring trumpeter Wallace Roney, drummer Ari Hoenig, bassist Daryl Johns, and guitarist Russell Malone, it's a natural direction for Gray, as she started in jazz bands, putting her unique spin on classics, and has cited jazz vocalists as influences throughout her career. Apart from two originals and as many covers, Gray revisits her own work.