The following review is published in the July edition of Just Jazz Magazine:
The recent problems faced by NYJO with funding have been well publicised. With this new CD, we hear one good reason why it is worth ensuring that NYJO survives. Sarah Ellen Hughes (right) was a notable member of NYJO for seven years, as vocalist and flautist, from 2001-2008. I would venture to suggest that the benefit of being with such a fine band is here to see. Would she have had the confidence and technical skill had she not had such a fine apprenticeship? Maybe, but the evident skill and maturity in the work of one so young are rare indeed.
Sarah Ellen’s own backing group is normally piano, bass and drums. On several tracks on this CD it is augmented by the addition of Dave O’Higgins, Jim Hart and the voice of Ian Shaw. That Sarah Ellen is a musician first and vocalist second is very evident. She understands the dynamics of improvisation and has a sympathetic ear (when singing) for the direction the instrumentalists take. Her talents also extend to composition. Two tracks written by her, the blues, Some People, and Workin’ Hard, a more funky number containing the line I never thought I’d hear, ‘It’s Tesco value all the way’! The fifth track, Darning the Dream, uses a vocalise variation, by Sarah Ellen, based very obviously on Darn That Dream. Indeed, the track ends as she reverts to the original. The set concludes with a beautiful rendition of a hymn, Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go, which was the favourite of Sarah Ellen’s mother. For the purpose of the CD, Sarah has called it A Hymn For Janet (which I assume was her mother’s name.) The choice of songs is wide-ranging. The standards are there alongside her own work, and her approach is both conventional (when the song demands it) and entirely adventurous on other numbers. Take, for example, the duets with Ian Shaw, where the harmonising demands, and gets, real skill.
Sarah Ellen Hughes is a real force as a jazz vocalist. Since leaving NYJO, she is setting out on a certain path to become one of our top jazz vocalists. The confidence, maturity, and sheer class, is astonishing in one so young. The release of the CD coincides with a tour by her of the UK. However, by the time this review is published (the July edition), the tour will have concluded. Nevertheless, I would recommend that you keep your eye open for Sarah Ellen if she performs near you. It should be worth a listen. Her website is www.sarahellenhughes.co.uk
This is a notable recording of a fine musician with a great future.