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 Sunday, 29 November 2015
A Growing “Obsession” in Vocal Jazz: Tessa Souter at the Artists Quarter, May 12th PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Monday, 10 May 2010

“Souter's crystalline contralto and impeccable phrasing are mighty arrows in her quiver, but it is her ability to become one with a song, finding its intrinsic core and allowing its sentiments to grow organically, that enables her to score successive bull's eyes.” –Jazz Times 

Tessa Souter

A multi-talented artist from a multi-cultural background, vocalist Tessa Souter brings her personal diversity to the stage and recording studio. A former freelance journalist and scholarship recipient to the Manhattan School of Music, Souter is currently touring in support of her acclaimed third recording, Obsession. The tour brings her to the Artists Quarter in St. Paul on Wednesday, May 12th. Guitarist Jason Ennis ensures this night will provide a double dose of sublime and globally informed jazz. 

Tessa Souter

Born in London to English and Trinidadian parents, Souter overcame the challenges of teen motherhood, moving to San Francisco in the early 1990s to establish a career as a journalist covering travel, celebrities, the city’s homeless and more for major media outlets. She became one of the original members of the Bay Area literary haunt, the Writer’s Grotto. Yet she had long yearned to be singer, a path that opened up after singing in a San Francisco karaoke bar. Area jam sessions ultimately led to a scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music and move to New York in 1996 at age 40, but she soon left school for four years of mentoring by the legendary Mark Murphy. She described this period in a book, Anything I Can Do You Can Do Better, published by Random House (2006). Of her talents, Murphy noted, “She is a true musician ... extraordinary and very moving.”

Jason Ennis
Melding American jazz with flamenco, Brazilian, Indian and Middle Eastern music, Souter has been described “one of the few exceptional standouts in the crowded field of female jazz singers” by Don Heckman. Her debut recording, Listen Love (Nara, 2005), received accolades for her “crystal clear voice and diamond cut phrasing” (Michael Harrington, Philadelphia Inquirer); her next outing, Nights of Key Largo (Venus, 2008), featuring Kenny Werner, Billy Drummond, and Joel Frahm, won Swing Journal’s Gold Disc review with its “traces of Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae in her phrasing, and Julie London and Peggy Lee in her delicate breathing, which harbors a touch of sorrow.” In the past decade, Souter  has appeared at Jazz Standard and the Moscow International Performing Arts Center; has sold out Dizzy's Club Coca Cola, Joe's Pub and the Blue Note in New York; and Pizza Express, Live on the Park and Ronnie Scott's in London.

Jason Ennis

New York –based guitarist Jason Ennis is steeped in both classical and Brazilian traditions. Trained at Berklee and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Ennis has performed with Charles Neville (The Neville Brothers Band), Todd Reynolds (Bang on a Can, Steve Reich), Freddie Bryant and more. He leads the Jason Ennis Trio, Nós Daqui and the Bernal/Eckroth/Ennis Trio, appearing in New York at such clubs as the Blue Note and Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Lincoln Center. Currently he is working on a recording of his own solo arrangements of jazz and Brazilian classics as well as a duo recording with Brazilian seven-string guitar virtuoso, Marcello Gonçalves. Jason teaches guitar privately and is a faculty member at Interplay Jazz in Woodstock, Vermont. 


Obsession is Tessa Souter’s third recording, released on Motema last summer, featuring long-standing cohorts Jason Ennis (guitar), Gary Wang (bass), Conor Meehan (drums), and guests Victor Prieto (accordion on 6 tracks), Todd Reynolds (violin) and Ansel Matthews (backing vocals). The set list is as diverse as Souter herself—three tunes from her native Britain (Cream’s “White Room,” her arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby,” and Nick Drake’s “River Man;” two pay tribute to one of her Brazilian muses, Milton Nacimento (“Make This City Ours Tonight,” “Empty Faces”) as well as Brazilian singer/songwriter Dori Caymmi (“Obsession”); a medley of modern standards “Afro Blue” and “Footprints,” along with Kenny Barron’s “Crystal Rain” (“Sunshower”) and Freddie Hubbard’s “Nara” (“Little Sunflower”); and the “Love Theme From Spartacus.” Add in two originals from Souter, “Now and Then” and “Usha’s Wedding Song.”  Notes Souter, “All these lyrics would work almost as poems… The songs kind of sing themselves. Each song has its own story, and your job is not to be in the way of that somehow, but just to let the story come out.” 

Souter’s clear articulation, resonant contralto, and haunting phrasing are at the fore from the first notes of her arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby,” flowing into her unique creation of mood on “River Man,” both tracks particularly graced by Jason Ennis guitar. With Gary Wang’s bass lines, the title track suggests Brazilian R&B, while Wang and Conor Meehan provide a folkloric foundation for Tessa’s elegant rendering of “Afro Blue,” Ennis seamlessly sliding into an instrumental interlude of “Footprints,” while Souter’s closing “Afro Blue” verse sails above Shorter’s bass vamp. 

Souter’s original compositions bring together Latin rhythms and American wordsmithing (“Now and Then”) in collaboration with Ennis’s sparkling guitar and Victor Prieto’s swinging accordion, while “Usha’s Wedding” looks eastward over a steady vocal chant, a modern prayer that echoes ancient rites. 

At the Artists Quarter

Don’t miss this special presentation of one of the rapidly rising stars of vocal jazz, Tessa Souter, accompanied by one of the top first-call guitarists in New York, Jason Ennis. One night only, May 12th, at 8 pm (note early start time). 

The Artists Quarter is located at 408 St. Peter Street, in the lower level of the Hamm Building in downtown St. Paul; More on Tessa Souter at 

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