Many people will undoubtedly think that IF I WERE YOUR WOMAN is an attention-grabbing and curious title for an album by a male singer, but vocalist, songwriter, arranger, and producer SIDNEY JACOBS is an exciting performer who likes to experiment and is not afraid to take chances. On IF I WERE YOUR WOMAN, he lends his rich, baritone voice to straight-ahead and R&B-inflected jazz tunes that are usually sung by or identified with women. The songs are a daring mix of standards, Jacobs’ originals, and pop/R&B songs.
IF I WERE YOUR WOMAN is Jacobs’ second album. It follows First Man, which rose to 34 on the JazzWeek chart and received many accolades, including an honorable mention by Ted Gioia as one of the best CDs of 2017.
The concept for IF I WERE YOUR WOMAN grew from one of Jacobs’ live performances. Just for fun, he decided to sing a Nnenna Freelon arrangement of “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story. The audience loved it. Judging by their reaction, his wife gave him the idea that it might be interesting to record a whole album that shines a new light on female-oriented songs. As he began exploring this theme, Jacobs says, “I wanted to create a different listening experience and find songs that had personal relevance to me and songs that marked some very specific times in my life.”
As a composer and arranger, Jacobs’ music has a syncopated, polyrhythmic feel underlying richly constructed harmonies. There is a hint of gospel, classical, soul, folk, and R&B in his music and it is cohesive and seamless. As a singer, Jacobs has fluid control of dynamics and phrasing, and he finds the emotional center every time.
Jacobs is highly regarded by West Coast jazz musicians, and he brought on board some wonderfully creative and sensitive players with GENE COYE (drums), SOLOMON DORSEY (electric and acoustic bass), JOSH JOHNSON (alto sax and flute) CHRIS LAWRENCE (trumpet), JOSH NELSON (piano and keyboards), GREG POREE (acoustic guitar), NOLAN SHAHEED (trumpet and flugelhorn), JOAKIM TOFTGARD (trombone), RICKEY WOODARD (tenor sax), and MUNYUNGO JACKSON (percussion). RON FEUER, the music director for The 5th Dimension, co-produced this album and plays additional keyboards. Jacobs provided all vocals and additional keyboards and percussion.
To add different textures, Jacobs composed brief soundscapes that are interspersed throughout the album. The opening song, “We All...” is an all-vocal multi-layered soundscape invoking a memory Jacobs had while traveling in Thailand, sitting on a cabin deck and listening to the Islamic call to prayer echo off the mountains behind him. The full title of the song is “We All...Know...A Little Bit...” The composition is broken up into three small movements that appear throughout the album.
Jacobs covers two standards including “On A Clear Day,” which has particular resonance for him because he actually stumbled upon Barbra Streisand singing it as it was being filmed outdoors in 1970. The other standard is the hard swinging “I Feel Pretty.”
Jacobs delves into R&B with his re-imaginings of “If I Were Your Woman,” made famous by Gladys Knight and the Pips; “Until You Come Back to Me,” released by Aretha Franklin in 1973; “Facts,” performed by R&B singer H.E.R.; the wonderfully sensitive ballad “Like A Star,” written and performed by British singer and multiple Grammy-winner Corinne Bailey Rae; “I’m Coming Back,” by Gary Taylor and performed by Lalah Hathaway; and “Been So Long,” written and performed by Anita Baker in 1986.
Jacobs rounds out these songs with his own music. “Weave The Tale” is a tour de force of scatting, melody and rhythm; a wordless meandering through a be-bop playground. Jacobs trades lines with Rickey Woodard and Josh Nelson. Gene Coye on drums is a creative waterfall, and Solomon Dorsey holds down the bass while also jumping up to melody in swinging fashion.
“Light,” a song inspired by words from his mother, finds Jacobs penning a full ensemble arrangement in big band fashion. He explores the resilience he learned from his family. It’s an uplifting ‘let’s take the scenic route’ type of driving song.
Although men have covered songs performed by and for women, few have conceived of an entire project that creates a new spin. Although it can seem a bit surprising at first, the entire album hangs together beautifully with Jacobs’ smart interpretations and musical sensibilities. It takes an artist with the sense of daring, emotional maturity, and chops of Sidney Jacobs to pull it off so convincingly.
1. We All 0:30
2. On a Clear Day 5:52
3. Facts 5:03
4. Weave the Tale 3:24
5. Stay Up 0:24
6. Like a Star 4:22
7. Know 0:36
8. I Feel Pretty 5:55
9. I’m Coming Back 6:32
10. Until You Come Back to Me 3:07
11. Human Typography 1:45
12. Been So Long 4:45
13. Light 3:51
14. A Little Bit 0:32
15. If I Were Your Woman 4:40
16. Conversations with Mom 1:22
Produced by Sidney Jacobs
Co-produced by Ron Feuer