Emotion and Style, Jazz and Soul: Until Tomorrow by Zara McFarlane

By Daniel Garrett

Zara McFarlane, Until Tomorrow
Brownswood Recording, 2011

Zara McFarlane’s bell-like voice has both authority and femininity, and she uses impressive dramatic control in her singing; and McFarlane’s album Until Tomorrow is a fine and thoughtful introduction to her talent.  With piano, percussion, and horn, “More Than Mine” McFarlane as narrator compares herself with another woman as a rival in love, and at first one suspects insecurity, but there is something chilly in the narrator’s ability to read her lover’s preferences.  Zara McFarlane’s voice can be really pure or take on a husky quality, and her inflections are subtle, varied, as in “Captured (part 3), a song about the memory of a woman, with a swinging rhythm.  Delivered with syncopation, the lyrics of “Mama Done” suggest something ominous: “she talked herself right into the ground.”  McFarlane’s voice floats in the air in the song “Until Tomorrow,” which seems to be about an impasse in a relationship that time and distance might ease.  Her voice could be a sound alive on the wind, without a body.

Zara McFarlane studied music performance at the ThamesValleyUniversity and jazz at the Guildhall School of Music, and she has been compared to other singers—such as Dianne Reeves and Jill Scott—but does not really remind me of anyone.  McFarlane has performed with jazz master Hugh Masekela, and with musicians who may be better known in Britain: Denys Baptiste, Bopstar, Soweto Kinch, Orphy Robinson, and Alex Wilson.  With McFarlane on Until Tomorrow are Peter Edwards (pianist), Andy Chapman (drums), Nick Walsh (double-bass), and Zem Adu, Camilla George, and Binker Goldings (the latter three on saxophone).  Zara McFarlane has a mastery, already, that one would not expect of someone who is not yet thirty.

“Come and see my blossom tree,” sings McFarlane in “Blossom Tree,” preceding another evocation of nature in the incantatory “Feed the Spirit (The Children & The Warlock),” with bass and percussion, in which delicacy becomes cacophony; and then “Waking Sleep (Thoughts).”  Thinking and playing occur in “Chiaroscuro,” and “Desire” is partly a tone poem, and then there is an alternate take of “More Than Mine,” which begins with questions, even doubts, but continues with a critique of the other woman and self-affirmation, performed here with a densely chanting male chorus (are men inevitably the audience for female competition?).  The collection might have been longer, but contains nothing that seems a waste.  Zara McFarlane has delivered on a promise many of us did not know she had made.

Daniel Garrett, born in Louisiana and a longtime resident of New York, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, was an intern at Africa Report, poetry editor for the male feminist magazine Changing Men, founded and acted as principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at ABC No Rio and Poets House, wrote about painter Henry Tanner for Art & Antiques, organized the first interdepartmental environmental justice meeting at Audubon, wrote about fiction and poetry for World Literature Today and international film for Offscreen, and has done music reviews that constitute a history of popular music for The Compulsive Reader.  Daniel admires classic and modern literature and philosophy, and likes painting and sculpture, French film, Afghan and Indian food, jazz, rock, and world music; and his writing has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Black Film Review, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and Wax Poetics. 

Contact: dgarrett31@hotmail or D.Garrett.Writer@gmail.com