LITERATURE INSPIRES VOCALIST SARA SERPA'S STUNNING NEW RELEASE * Second album as a leader showcases her wide range as vocalist and composer with her new quintet * "Sara Serpa is the magical voice."-Ran Blake, pianist "Serpa's vocal style resists description and defies the task of identifying precursors or analogs." - Franz A. Matzner, All About Jazz - - "Sara Serpa is cool all over, from conception to execution. She's got a style just about locked down." - New York Times Mobile (Inner Circle) shows just how far vocalist-composer Sara Serpa has traveled as an artist in the few short years since she arrived in New York. After coming to the world's attention as a member of Greg Osby's group in 2008 and further establishing her credentials in duet with pianist Ran Blake on last year's Camera Obscura, Serpa now sets off firmly on her own journey with a ravishing new release as the leader of a quintet featuring guitarist André Matos, keyboardist Kris Davis, bassist Ben Street, and drummer Ted Poor. Inspired by the literature of travel and self-discovery, the far ranging album brilliantly showcases her remarkable abilities as an interpreter of lyrics, an improviser, an ensemble member, and composer. The versatility and originality that led All About Jazz to call her "the freshest vocalist on the scene at the moment" has never been more in evidence. A native of Lisbon, Portugal, Serpa has been turning heads with her unique and innovative approach to jazz singing. As Alan Young describes in Lucid Culture, "In an unadorned, vibratoless, crystalline delivery with a clarity so pure it was scary, Serpa sang mostly carefully chosen and stunningly nuanced vocalese." Mobile showcases some of her best improvising on record so far. Her supple voice, strong with an almost glassy brightness, seems infinitely flexible, equally capable of wild leaps throughout her considerable range or long, flowing lines of graceful contours or short phrases that add a percussion kick to her solos. On "Sequoia Gigantis" and "Pilgrimage to Armanath," she shapes notes carefully, narrowing and expanding them, using dynamics to create pulsing tension and release, while subtle colors and textures brighten and darken her lines. She's just as capable an interpreter of lyrics, as the touchingly vulnerable performances of "If" and "Sem Razao" show. "My role is the one of a musician," Serpa says, "I don't have to be soloing all the time or just interpreting songs. Basically I want to be able to do with my voice what instrumentalists do with their instruments-to use it, to sing, to be part of an ensemble. Every instrument has it's own challenges or limitations, but the main goal is to be a complete musician, with good ears and a sense of rhythm, melody, and harmony. I just want to contribute what feels better for each tune and for the message I want to transmit with it. "I am fascinated with the sound of the voice, the resonance it has, it's power as well," she continues. "With or without words, I feel like the human sound is very touching and deep. That's why I like so much to just use my voice as a musical instrument. Words are good to transmit a message, to create a state of mind, to tell a story. But I like to think that I am telling stories with my melodies, because that's really what's happening. Her love of storytelling is front and center on Mobile, most of which features compositions inspired by Serpa's reading of fiction and nonfiction travel literature. As she thought about what united the various books she'd been reading, she realized that most of the authors or characters "were all solitary travelers, adventurers encouraged by the discovery of the unknown, spirits filled with curiosity. Each song is definitely my vision of certain episode or scene of books I have read." For instance, "Sequoia Gigantis" is Serpa's impressions of John Steinbeck's visit to the redwoods in Travels with Charley. "I imagined a magical and mysterious place," she says. "After the recording I had the chance to see redwoods myself. It was even more magical than I expected, but I think I have captured the forest's silence and powerful energy." "Pilgrimage to Armanath" is inspired by a trip to a mountain cave in V.S. Naipaul's An Area of Darkness, "Throughout the book, he is in constant conflict with himself and his own culture," she explains. "But he's at peace with himself when he follows the pilgrimage to the mountain Armanath. This song is about that peaceful feeling and the journey." Journalist Ryzard Kapuscinki's reporting supplied the impetus for "Traveling with Kapuscinski." "He saw so many beautiful things," she says, "but also so many ugly and terrible aspects of the human nature. This is about those mixed feelings you get when you get to know the history of the world." "City of Light, City of Darkness" derives from Gente da Terceira Classe by Portuguese novelist Jose Rodrigues Migueis. "There's a chapter about a man who cleans the subway. He sees the daylight through the ceilings of the subway and occasionally there's rice that falls from the street (when here are weddings). The man collects the rice," Serpa says. The quintet doesn't try to recreate the scenes, but to develop the powerful atmosphere and musical ideas of each piece. For instance, "Gold Diggin' Ants," based on a bizarre passage by ancient Greek historian Herodotus that recounts the antics of fox-sized, furry "ants" in the Persian desert, features a zig-zag melody and a pliable tempo. The band maintains the busy ant-hill energy in a brilliantly sustained collective improvisation. "Ulysses's Costume," a meditation on the hero of the Odyssey returning home to Ithaca and recounting his adventures, includes some of Serpa's most compelling musical storytelling, in a solo that develops a narrative flow from discrete short phrases into ever more complex, sinuous lines. Davis' piano solo on "Ahab's Lament" captures the spiritual turmoil of the obsessed captain in Melville's Moby Dick. Andre Matos' crystalline acoustic guitar solo sustains the melancholy of the solitary traveler on "Corto," a portrait of Corto Maltese, the gypsy sailor protagonist of artist Hugo Pratt's graphic novels. Serpa's lyrics, sung in Portuguese captures the both the beauty and pain of the wandering life: "Infinite horizon, stars, the moon, the sun burns and knows who am I, what am I ... Ah the sky and the sea, a wave speaks to me: go far away, don't stop ... Don't look back." Two compositions not inspired by travel literature, nevertheless convey a sense of larger-than-life emotion. "If," Serpa's setting of E.E. Cummings' poem about lost love, features achingly vulnerable solos from Serpa and Matos. "Sem Razão," ("Without a Reason") the only tune on the album not written by Serpa, is a rueful Portuguese fado about "love, fate, and it's misfortunes," Serpa explains. It features some of her most emotionally exposed singing on the album. The solitary wanderers of these songs and literary works clearly have a resonance both personal and universal for Serpa. Like them, she is on her own path of self-examination and discovery. Here's hoping it's a long, eventful journey.