Rebecca Zapen is a jazz violinist and vocalist
from Jacksonville, Florida. Japanese Bathhouse is
her second solo album, but the first thing by her that i
have ever heard. This is a light, happy album of sparse melodies,
hushed rhythms, and lovely voice.
Ms. Zapen has a great singing voice, perfectly in keeping with the style that she performs. The vocals are very old-fashioned, like something Ella Fitzgerald would have sung. That is, Zapen uses similar cadences and pronunciations. That must be the "jazz" thing. Once difference though is that Ms. Zapen, unlike those old superstars of vocal jazz, has the benefit of modern recording equipment, so her voice is crisp and clear.
The music on Japanese Bathhouse, performed by Ms. Zapen and various friends and colleagues (presumably of the Jacksonville jazz scene), is silly fun jazz. If you liked Squirrel Nut Zippers, then you will enjoy this album. The whole thing is over in barely 35 minutes, but Zapen packs a lot into that short of a time frame. Let me go over a few of the high points.
Smile is a song that, well, makes me smile, because, although it is
an original Zapen tune, it sounds exactly like the type of 1940s song that
Wayne and Wanda would have tried to perform on The Muppet Show.
Zapen sings a lovely duet with Christopher Estes to the sound of strummed ukulele.
There is even a brief "tap dance" portion in the middle of the song for Wanda
to attempt. Very fun.
However, Zapen is not all silly music for puppets. I Am Fine is a much more forceful jazz tune with stronger rhythms, and she really belts out the notes here. She also sings more traditionally on Your Voice, which is a bossa nova tune that bears a (very slight) resemblance to Girl From Ipanema. On Dolores she is singing sultry nightclub jazz torch songs, the kind that your grandparents slow danced to before going off to fight the Nazis. Three different tunes in three different old jazz styles, and yet Ms. Zapen bends her voice to fit each remarkably well. She must have some formal training, and i appreciate that. She is a very accomplished vocalist.
Not all of the tunes are jazz though. I've Been Dreaming is an almost classical tune, while Some Things Take Time is almost a folk song. Her playing shows just as much diversity as her singing.
Overall, i have to admit that i am impressed. This CD definitely isn't for everybody, but for those who enjoy old fashioned music, Ms. Zapen has given a fresh interpretation that is rather pleasant.