One of the hardest aspects of music can be keeping with tradition while also pushing the genre forward. It’s hard to strike just the right balance. That’s why Straight from the Soul, a debut jazz fusion album by Hannah Baiardi, University of Michigan alum, is so special: It manages to sound fresh and new without being too removed from its roots. The album also doesn’t leave the listener feeling lost; it invites us into Baiardi’s colorful world of sound.
“I think we’re kind of trying to find our tribe and trying to find people that energetically get what we’re trying to put out,” Baiardi said recently in an interview with The Daily. “Hopefully, it resonates at like a very deep, emotional level with people.”
The album is an open invitation to the acoustic world of Baiardi. The music really does speak straight to the soul — it’s raw and passionate. To her, this album was as much a personal passion project as it is an album for the public, which leads to its genuine sound: Baiardi never sacrifices her voice in order to fit stereotypes.
“I would say Straight from the Soul came from a concept of wanting to really channel my artistry in a way that was very raw, unfettered, unfiltered: just really me in the truest sense,” Baiardi said. “And I feel like, in the industry, we tried to sometimes fit into a mold or be accepted into a certain genre. And my kind of mission is to go against that, and to kind of tune in to what my voice is telling me.”
Breaking stereotypes plays a big role in many aspects of the album, especially through Baiardi’s experience as a woman in jazz, a male-dominated field.
“You really hardly hear about (female) arrangers or composers these days, I mean, more and more, but still got a long way to go. So I think just to be part of that community … is still something really special,” Baiardi said. “And it gives me hope that you know, it’s a very hard industry, probably one of the toughest industries to pick right now, but having a purpose … purpose-driven music really inspired me because some of my lyrics are about like social change, you know, gender, racial disparities and injustices. So having a purpose behind my music really is inspiring.”
Following her own voice contributed to a sound that seems to have one foot in tradition and one foot in innovation, bringing something new to the table without flipping it over. A clear example of this is in her arrangement of Michel Legrand’s classic tune “The Summer Knows.” Though many legends of the past have covered it —from Sinatra to Streisand — Baiardi puts a new spin on it, forgoing the grand cinematic jazz orchestra sound, and instead subverting expectations and, in her own words, “strip(ping it) down acoustically so that the percussion, like the djembe, is featured along with the flugelhorn.” This leads to a fresh spin on an old classic — a permeating theme throughout the album.
But staying grounded in tradition does not mean that Baiardi is afraid to take risks One aspect of her music that comes to mind is her incorporation of spoken word in many of her tracks. Although it pays off much better in some places than others, one instance that stood out was in “Let Go,” her collaboration track with David Magumba, which used spoken word as a rhythmic element. Another risk was the choice to add more produced sounds in songs like “Distant Land” and “Who Can Relate,” which had a similar hit-or-miss effect. But in general, this risk-taker attitude allows the music to feel free and uninhibited.
As the worlds of jazz and pop collide, the future is with the artists that can bridge the two genres and provide music that not only combines but elevates them. Straight from the Soul combines the two masterfully. Baiardi draws inspiration from a variety of sources, from Latin and soul to Euro-pop and contemporary piano. She also had excellent collaborations, including Bill Lucas, Marion Hayden and Pete Siers, among many others. Her knowledge and awareness of the current jazz scene come through in the album, incorporating a plethora of styles with youthful energy. It’s adventurous while at the same time never seems to lose its way.
Straight from the Soul is an incredibly promising debut album. Baiardi is certainly carving out her own niche in a field that has so many talented voices. As she puts it, “This is a step in the journey.” If this is merely a step, then we have a lot more to look forward to.
Daily Arts Writer Jason Zhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.