Rajdulari came by her love of jazz and jazz singing naturally. The Michigan native remembers watching her mother prepare for her role in productions of the musical revue “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” That Tony Award nominated play was a homage to Duke Ellington, Eubie Blake, Fats Waller and the other crafters of Harlem Renaissance era jazz, and Rajdulari’s mom played Billie Holiday.
Rajdulari came by her love of jazz and jazz singing naturally. The Michigan native remembers watching her mother prepare for her role in productions of the musical revue “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” That Tony Award nominated play was a homage to Duke Ellington, Eubie Blake, Fats Waller and the other crafters of Harlem Renaissance era jazz, and Rajdulari’s mom played Billie Holiday. The Kalamazoo native’s family also endowed her with a love of Ella Fitzgerald, Dianne Reeves, and Sarah Vaughan to go along with the gospel music that she sang in church.
Rajdulari says that she’s always been attracted to singers who used their voices as instruments, so her interest in masters of scat will not be surprising to those listening to Journey of A Woman, her second album. While Rajdulari draws inspiration from jazz singers past and present, her music will remind listeners of the sub genre of soul music that was highly infused with jazz. Artists such as Bobby Humphrey and Gil Scot Heron specialized in this type of music in the 1970s, and it has found a rebirth in the 21st Century in the hands of people such as Robert Glasper.
Rajdulari stays with that formula throughout Journey of A Woman with the main exceptions being “Natural” and “Dance w/ Me.” The former sports a contemporary R&B arrangement right down to the programmed percussion. The latter is a steppers jam that finds Rajdulari recounting the story of her decision not to wait for the good-looking guy who entered the club to make the first move. “Natural,” a self-affirming cut that encourages women to embrace their natural beauty, is the stronger of the two. The track’s modern production techniques can’t obscure the jazz flourishes from the piano, as well as the change in tempo to a swinging bridge.
Journey of A Woman shines when Rajdulari expounds more fully on her jazz roots. That comes across most clearly on the two covers that close the album. The first is a remake of the Mtume classic “Juicy,” and the second is a cover of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” A reinterpretation may be the best description of both numbers because Rajdulari remains true to the words and theme of both tracks while using her vocals and the instrumental arrangement to translate both into the language of jazz. Her vocals move ahead and behind the melody, while the open musical arrangement provides ample space for Rajdulari’s musicians, such as violinist Monique Brooks-Roberts, to create and improvise.
The fusion of soul and jazz allows Rajdulari to play to her strength as a storyteller. That can be heard on the confessional “Real Love,” where the artist explores the opportunity cost of becoming involved casual relationships. The singer moves more to the soul side on the reflective “Peace.” This cut is a slow and pensive yet funky number that serves as a cry for tranquility of the personal rather than universal variety.
Journey of A Woman is a record that recalls a time when R&B’s musical diversity was celebrated rather than suppressed. So much creative active takes place underground, and it’s unfortunate that there are few outlets for distinct voices such as the one Rajdulari displays on Journey of A Woman. Recommended.
By Howard Dukes