Release Date:
August 4, 2009

Reviewed by:
Shannon West

BAILA!  Dance. Sway, spin, let your shoulders shimmy and your hips move to the sound of distant percussion. Is it Carnival? The morning after the Carnival? Is it a balmy tropical night, a mellow Brazilian afternoon, a joyously sweaty night at the dance club. All the time in the back of your mind there is that search for True Love. You meet, then there is the fire and the dreamy softness, then the "where is he/she?" And as Jessy J says in one of the promotional videos for this album "After this very traumatic and fulfilling adventure we find true love and we are so happy and ecstatic all we want to do is dance." And as she explains later, the True Love you find may be the music itself. It's the name of the song that wraps up the CD: BAILA!

That is the essence of Jessy J's sophomore effort, True Love. The follow up to her exceptional debut, Tequila Moon, finds her continuing to develop her already formidable musicianship and songwriting skills but the most significant thing about this project is the way it conveys a feeling. There is a story in these grooves (or bytes) that is told with the voice of an instrument. It ebbs and flows from bright to dark, joyous to pensive, over the underpinnings of instrumentation that has somehow fused smooth R&B nuance with Latin sensibilities. It's the best of two worlds playing beautifully together. Her ongoing collaboration with producer Paul Brown seems to have brought him out of that dark, riffy thing that was so much a part of his late 90s work with Boney and Braun. For the most part she is joined by the same group of musicians who backed her on the smash track "Tequila Moon" - Brown on guitar, Gregg Karukas on keyboards, bassist Roberto Vally, drummer Sergio Gonzalez and percussionist Richie Gajate Garcia. It creates a cohesive set of songs but don't think for a minute that this is a package of soundalikes. This album shifts from percussive Latin grooves to haunting dreamy melodies, from traditional smooth with a heavy dose of contemporary added on to salsa to the dance floor and into the ethereal.

Lets start at the end and work backwards just for fun and because the final song "BAILA" is my favorite track on the album. It starts off subtle but breaks into this infectious chorus, then simmers under J's sax and Brown's guitar before it boils over into a sizzling salsa jam. "Brazilian Dance's" instrumentation is sparse, just acoustic guitar, subtle percussion and keyboards with her sax counterpointing Sergio Aranda's vocalese as it shifts from retro-lounge to Methenyish elegance. “Morning of the Carnival (Manha de Carnival)” is the showpiece track. Her update on the classic song has a spiky dance club groove and she shifts seamlessly from a vocal to sax singing the lead line in Spanish while spoken lines in English recall the American Version that was subtitled "A Day In The Life Of A Fool." The contemporary jazz instrumentals that are front loaded onto the album are equally delicious. Most of them were co-written with Brown and a lot of the "bells and whistles" are present here- the loops, keyboard signatures, guitar riffs and textures that have become staples in his studio arsenal - but here they enhance rather than overwhelm and her artistic identity shines through. Take "Forever" with its circular melody and click/snap effects or "Jessy's Blues" which is melodically similar to a few songs on Brown's CDs. She plays with such dynamics and improvises with such economy that these songs veer off into all kinds of interesting places. The title track is a gentle percussion driven bossa nova with a lovely Karukas solo in the middle.  She explores the lower range of the tenor in "Tropical Rain" after opening the song on flute and she and the band juxtapose two musical themes, the one in the background being almost cinematic.

“True Love” has completely avoided the nostalgia trap too. There are no covers of overfamiliar pop songs – the completely modernized “Manha De Carnival” is the only song on the CD that is not an original – and with the market being glutted with 70s influences and big band era tributes it is refreshing to hear a totally contemporary set of songs.

All that being said, this is an album that just feels good to listen to, and isn't that what keeps you listening? Jessy J has finely honed chops, songwriting skills and a strong sense of originality. So do a lot of other musicians whose well produced and skillfully executed projects end up in the ho-hum stack. What makes this one stand out in the growing pile of contemporary sax releases is her presence when she plays. She has said she wants her shows to feel like she's in the living room partying with you and she has this same connection in the studio. The sound of her sax reaches out and, yeah, embraces you. There is an energy that comes straight from her heart. It's the same spirit of warmth and joy that is so present in her videos, FaceBook updates and Tweets. This is a woman who  lives like she plays, taking in everything she can and translating it into the universal language - music. She can play the start of a new romance or the shape of the moon in the summer sky. This is music that will take take you somewhere like that even if you're stuck in an office or a traffic jam. It's True Love. BAILA!