Bass savvy, coupled with modern jazz song writing. Belinda Underwood’s debut CD, Underwood Uncurling, is a journey in today’s jazz harmony with yesterday’s rustic charms. Underwood invokes eclectically thought provoking lyrics in her storytelling approach to composition. Her soft falsetto and strong chest voice is reminiscent of the late Billie Holiday.
Underwood, a native of California, grew up in a musical family. Her mother trained classically on piano at the University of Oregon. Her father, a horn player and inventor of the Underwood bass pick-up, exposed her to music on a daily basis. Underwood began music lessons on violin and piano as a youngster. As a young adult, she studied at the University of California at Berkeley. An early childhood family friend, David Friesen, came to teach a master class. This was a turning point in Underwood’s future. She was so impressed with the amount of knowledge she gained from one master class, that she asked Friesen if she could study with him, but his answer was no.
Underwood, convinced this was her direction, continued to be insistent with Friesen. He agreed upon one condition, she would move to Portland to study with him. It was in this time she began to hone her skills as a bassist, vocalist and songwriter.
Underwood Uncurling is a culmination of her journey and experiences combined with classic standards that present a pleasing and compelling release. The release begins with Born to be Blue, a wonderful jazz standard written by Mel Torme and Robert Wells. Underwood approaches this cut with a matter of fact phrasing that compliments the storyline of the lyrics. Another highlight on this track is bassist, Phil Baker. His intonation and execution is superb.
While listening to the cut Trees, penned by Underwood, you become enveloped by an airy palate of emotions. Underwood’s ability to convey raw emotions and convincing delivery within her phrasing is present throughout the release. An even stronger ability Underwood exhibits is her songwriting style. Her contemplative lyrics compliment her sophistication of harmonic complexities within the music.
Underwood’s connection to David Friesen brought another special guest to the album, the famous Brazilian percussionist, Airto Moreira. At times Underwood’s unhurried delivery and willowy vocal tone is an incarnation of Moreira’s wife, Flora Purim, most notably known for her work with Chick Corea and Return to Forever. There is even a cover of Corea’s, You’re Everything which is complimented by Underwood’s originals Later Baby and Unspoken Thoughts creating a inter-woven theme between these three compositions.
The CD ends with a stripped-down setting of bass and voice featuring Underwood and Friesen in a duet. It leaves you with a calming effect that exhibits jazz in its most beautiful state, raw and uninhibited, a perfect ending to a fabulous debut by a blossoming songstress. I look forward to more from Belinda Underwood as a vocalist and most certainly as a songwriter.
- Carmel DeSota, Lilith's Child Webzine (Focused on Women in Music) May 2005