There’s a special pleasure to be had when a promising artist not only fulfills all expectations but then dashes ahead to produce a rare work of outstanding beauty. With her new recording, Off Beat, Katie Thiroux, a world-class bassist and charismatic singer, proves that all the initial critical attention she garnered from both her debut album and subsequent live appearances was merely a spur for her to quickly surpass her laudable achievements. Utilizing the contributions of pianist Justin Kauflin and drummer Matt Witek, as well as saxophonist Roger Neumann and saxophonist and clarinetist Ken Peplowski (and once again employing the skillful production of Jeff Hamilton), Thiroux has conjured up a dream project that certifies the well-being of exceptionally crafted mainstream jazz.
What first strikes an attuned listener on hearing Off Beat is that while Thiroux’s gifts as a bassist are at the top level, her singing has evidently matured, taking on a mellow, yet eminently swinging, expressivity. Her sly interpretations of “Off Beat,” an overlooked gem from the catalogue of the great June Christy; “Some Cats Know,” a Leiber and Stoller favorite of Peggy Lee; and Benny Carter’s classic “When Lights Are Low,” as well as her scat line on Ray Brown and Walter Fuller’s bebop prize, “Ray’s Idea,” are telling examples of her rhythmically shapely vocals. But three additional performances truly exhibit how thoroughly Thiroux has evolved as an assured vocalist. “When the Wind Was Green,” a seldom visited Frank Sinatra track from 1965, finds Thiroux’s vocals supported only by her formidable bass and Peplowski’s lyrical clarinet; on the chestnut, “Willow Weep For Me,”
Thiroux forgoes additional assistance, her own bass and vocals relaying the whole vivid story. And in the album’s biggest (and happiest) surprise, Thiroux lays down her instrument altogether for the emotional standard, “Why Did I Choose You?,” Kauflin’s supportive piano cradling her gently nuanced vocal. These sublime tracks send a clear message: Thiroux is taking her singing as seriously as she is her remarkable bass playing.
Of which, let there be no doubt, there are plenty of marvelous examples. On swinging performances including “Brotherhood of Man (from the Frank Loesser musical, “How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying”), or the easy grooving Thiroux original “Slow Dance With Me,” and the sensually intoned Duke Ellington masterpiece “Happy Reunion” (once a feature for star tenorist Paul Gonsalves, here a showpiece for the gorgeous weave of Peplowski and Neumann’s horns), Thiroux exhibits her rock solid technique, embracing tone and intuitive support. Swinging like crazy, Thiroux drives the music, no matter the tempo, displaying a balance of superior technical skills and exquisite taste. Her well-chosen features–like only the best of leaders, Thiroux knows when not to solo– are stunning instances of melodic inventiveness wedded to badass chops.
With the release of Off Beat, Thiroux has found herself in a pleasing conundrum. The only thing that can divert attention from her auspicious bass playing may be her praiseworthy vocalizing. It’s a tough position to be sure, but it’s obvious this multi-talented savant can handle it.
Studying both bass and voice since her pre-teenage years, Thiroux continued her musical education at the Berklee College of Music where she performed with Branford Marsalis, Greg Osby, Dr. Billy Taylor, Terri Lyne Carrington and others. In 2013, a year after receiving her master’s degree in jazz studies from California State University, Long Beach, Thiroux organized, and has since maintained, her own touring ensembles. Her 2015 debut album, Introducing Katie Thiroux, earned broad acclaim including a place on the best debut lists of the NPR Music Critics Poll, Huffington Post and All About Jazz. Performing throughout the United States and various international venues, Thiroux has worked with, among others, Eric Reed, Terell Stafford, Brian Lynch, Tierney Sutton and Patti Austin, and was Artist-In Residence at Quincy Jones’s new jazz club, Palazzo Versace, in Dubai.