Jazz is a collaborative art and simultaneously an expression of unique, original vision. Jazz singing compounds the difficulty of the music’s dual nature by requiring a vocalist to improvise on both the music and lyrics. Miranda Sage is a jazz singer who brings a lifetime of musical experience to her thoughtful, masterfully understated vocals. On This Day, Sage’s latest CD is her sixth and most accomplished record.
Produced by award-winning composer and multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson, it’s repertoire of reshaped jazz standards, little-known gems and Sage and Thompson’s wise originals showcase vocal performances that veteran jazz singer Sheila Jordan calls “pure and wonderful.”
Sage studied jazz vocals with Jordan, Jay Clayton, Louise Rose and seminal British jazz singer Norma Winstone who praises Miranda’s singing on the new CD as “very flexible and natural.”
Born in England and raised in Victoria, B.C. in a musical family that includes uncle Nick Newall of the Kinks, Miranda was taught piano by her mother before she started school. Sage played lute, harp, clarinet and alto sax in school then took up guitar and a professional career including tours of Europe, England and the U.S. in her 20’s.
Returning to Victoria, Sage retired from performing to raise a family. Later championed by acclaimed multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Hugh Fraser, Miranda re-launched her career in the 1990’s, performing in ensembles ranging from duos to big bands and releasing her Fraser-produced debut CD Standards and Originals in 1997. Fraser and Sage collaborated again on Moon Tiger, winning praise from KPLU-FM’s Jim Wilke and a place on his Best-of-the-Northwest recordings of 2003. In 2006 she worked with veteran bassist-producer Rick Kilburn on the Norma Winstone-inspired Timeless Places CD followed in 2009 by the Latin Music-themed Daydream. Don Thompson produced Both Sides Now in 2011, a warm and intimate collection of jazz standards backed by a crew of west coast Canadian studio stars.
With each recording Sage demonstrated the development of her artistry, vocal techniques crafted from performances with Hugh Fraser’s Big Band, Port Townsend Jazz Festival Big Band, and Swiftsure Big Band. Sage’s vocals were also showcased at Scotland’s Mid Argyle Annual Gala, Isle of Wight Jazz Divas Festival, Alberta’s Beneath the Arches concert series, multiple appearances at the TOSH concert series in Qualicum Beach, and Victoria International Jazz Festival. Miranda and Don Thompson toured throughout western Canada. She has performed regularly with duos, trios, quartets, sextets, and larger ensembles and held a steady gig at the Bent Mast in Victoria for 10 years. Her recorded performances were also featured on 16 compilation discs released in Taiwan and Singapore.
“What really impresses me,” enthused Thompson “is her attention to detail and her dedication to the music.” On this Day showcases Sage’s sensuous phrasing on a series of eclectic arrangements. Thompson’s brilliant orchestrations cloak the vocalist’s understated readings in rich harmonic textures, as she burrows into the lyrics with wisdom and dexterity.
Sage sings with the assurance of an adult, a wife and mother grounded by real life experiences. She has the voice of a grown-up still filled with sweet childlike wonder, a balance of mature depth and youthful exuberance. This balance is voiced brilliantly on her original song, Fat Cat, a nursery rhyme-like trifle that Sage transforms with a subtle coda warning of the ecological disaster created by greed. Guitarist Reg Schwager’s thoughtful contributions shine throughout Thompson’s diverse musical settings, most brightly on a concise solo shadowing Sage’s reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Dreamer. Thompson’s elegantly soulful piano backing threads through all eleven tracks, providing hip harmonics and joined to bassist Neil Swainson and drummer Terry Clarke’s playful rhythmic propulsion.
Phil Dwyer’s muscular tenor sax is featured on several tracks, most poignantly on Return to Isfahan, a Strayhorn Ellington classic enhanced by Sage’s expressive lyrics. Kevin Turcotte’s muted trumpet solo is another highlight, a lovely aria inspired by Sage’s hornlike reading of the title track.
On This Day is rich with such moments, the product of a great team of listeners with talent and technique. Sage and her bandmates approach Thompson’s jewel-like settings with a less-is-more sense of space and gentle, buoyant swing. It’s a masterful recording and the next, very assured step in Miranda Sage’s long musical career.