When a singer with a jazz voice essentially emerges through pop marketing and a hefty push immediately into the mainstream as what has happened with Londoner Irish-Bangladeshi singer Joy Crookes sometimes jazz fans don't know about it for a while and have to play catch up or just deny what is happening because it's not a direct route from the obvious jazz clubs and labels. But Skin isn't a purist record at all and there is plenty here that has nothing to do with an exact jazz affinity (although it's foolish to prescribe this too closely as some do). 'Poison' starts like a light and frothy jazz number with a keyboard line that's like a Billy Taylor riff and it's probably the closest to what you'll hear a jazz singer do these days. Crookes sounds a little like Amy Winehouse, a little like Julia Biel. She has the sassiness of Jasmine Power too. The horns on 'When You Were Mine' are certainly jazz and the songs throughout ooze sensuality in a setting that is big city Generation Z and one that chimes with young London jazz and the new acts out there who are shaking things up. There's a confessional feel to the intimacy and an honesty that makes Crookes seem real.
'Unlearn You' is a powerful ballad that certainly can work on a jazz level bathed in strings and poignant and the way Crookes' mezzo can leap up to a glassy soprano peak is impressive. Crookes does swagger well and you get a flailing confidence on 'Feet Don't Fail Me Now' that harnesses a retro sense to propel the thing forward but does not distract. 'Wild Jasmine' again makes me think of Julia Biel a bit with the guitar opening and Julia's selfsame ability to twist and turn a line and a lick to her advantage. Title track 'Skin' again does quietness so well, it's like a Kinks song on one level and there is that Ray Davies-like classic intimacy in a lot of what Crookes does. The jazz quietness is one of the most impressive things about the album and 'Power' seems to go even more late-night and personal, the piano line almost melting to nothing while 'Theek Ache' at the end is a soul flourish. Like the direction of the lift on the '19th floor' Crookes is going straight up. What an exhilarating and so satisfying ride this all is. Stephen Graham
Tags: Albums and EPs