Belinda Underwood - A Name Unheralded No Longer

How is it that Belinda Underwood has lived in Portland for two years and she's so far managed to slip under the radar of most jazz fans? This auspicious debut album shows a truly mature artist on her way up the jazz ladder, and it shouldn't take long for Underwood to find her way to the top. On just the unique strength of her voice alone she is a talent, but the fact that she also plays a fine upright bass and baritone ukulele as well shows that she is more than just a pretty voice. Underwood moved up from the Bay Area a few years back to take lessons from Portland bass legend David Friesen. The lessons have obviously paid off, since her grasp of the subtleties of the big instrument is quite obvious on here, where she plays nicely on three of the twelve tracks. She backs her easygoing, lilting vocals with a steady, swinging hand on "How Deep is the Ocean," and lends a soft pluck to the baritone ukulele on her own folksy ballad "Say My Name." Underwood came to Portland from Berkeley. She is the product of two musicians, so she began her training early on in life. She played bass in high school, then went on to U.C. Berkeley and the Jazz School in Berkeley. She met David Friesen at a workshop at the school and decided to go to Portland to take lessons from him."He encouraged me to write songs," said Underwood. Friesen has had a positive influence on Underwood and she has blossomed as a bassist and songwriter. She wrote six of the tracks on "Underwood Uncurling," including the wispily beautiful title track, and the slinking bossa "Trees," both of which could easily hold their own against anything written by Diana Krall. She sings on all tracks, and her voice is breathy, confident and inviting. It's a mix of Krall, Joni Mitchell and various other singers that go between folk and jazz with ease. Her delivery is flowing, often holding on the back end of the rhythm and floating into phrases. The album itself is amazingly well produced and features an impressive array of both local and international musicians. Friesen plays bass on several tracks, and Phil Baker also plies the big violin. Drums and percussion are handled by Martin Zarzar and famed Latin percussionist Airto Moreira, who Friesen brought into the fray. Clay Giberson, Dan Balmer, Chad Wagner, John Gross and Jason Levis also provide fine support. The only knock, and this is a slight one, is the inclusion of layered backing vocals on several tracks. Underwood's voice is great on its own, and the backing tracks distract slightly from the singular focus of her voice. Underwood also performs in a folkish duo with her sister Melissa, called Beliss. Her CD release party for "Underwood Uncurling" is January 15 from 8:30-midnight, with no cover charge.

2004, Belinda Underwood. Playing Time: 54:59. (four stars).

- Kyle O'Brien, Jazz Society of Oregon's Jazzscene Magazine, Jan 2005


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