Mood Swings (Chiaroscuro Jazz) 

by Marshall Bowden,
PopMatters Music Columnist and Critic -
15 January 2003

Kathy Kosins is yet another contemporary jazz singer who writes her own material. Between Kosins, Carol Duboc, Shirley Eckhart, Cassandra Wilson, and Patricia Barber, it appears that jazz is raising a crop of female singer/songwriters to rival the one pop music produced in the late '60s to early '70s. Kosins' latest recording, Mood Swings, is an ambitious project that is largely successful both as a display of songwriting talent and as a fine recordings of songs by an interesting and expressive singer. 

The album leads off with an original entitled "I Was There" that is interesting both melodically and lyrically. It's a fantasy about listening to Lester Young and Bud Powell playing in Paris in the '50s, delivered with authority and swing. Bassist Paul Keller's arrangement lends good support, with the voicings for tenor sax, trumpet, and trombone sounding fuller and larger than merely three horns. Tenor man Jim Gailloreto offers a nice solo (though not one that evokes Young) that keeps the proceedings moving along happily until Kosins returns to sing us out. Kosins' next composition, "In Paradise" is a fetching bossa nova ballad with some beautiful harmonica touches from Howard Levy, but it does get a touch syrupy, with some background vocals (Kosins overdubbed?) that stretch this toward too-easy listening territory.

Ditching originals for a moment, the singer turns her attention to Jimi Hendrix' "Foxy Lady" in a smoky, late-night sounding session that turns the song from psychedelic barnburner to slinky, sexually charged paean. Kosins sounds very R&B influenced on this one, her Detroit years spent in R&B/rock bands coming to the fore, as well as the time she spent working with Michael Henderson (who worked with Miles Davis' electric bands) and producer Don Was. I'm not a huge fan of the next track, "Just by Looking in Your Eyes", which also features singer Sunny Wilkinson performing, along with Kosins, a kind of "vocalese" that is all to similar to the wordless singing heard on Esquivel albums. 

Kosins and partner April Lang do better with material like "No Ordinary Joe", another straightforward jazz number that is reminiscent of the kind of thing you might hear Peggy Lee singing. Another standout is "Living in Style", a song about the glories of the life of a gold digger, which again uses a small horn section (this time arranged by pianist Paul Libman) to great effect. On these numbers Kosins' voice has a warmth and earnestness that isn't always apparent on the more dramatic numbers or on ballads. In addition, the jazz idiom really seems to inspire Kosins and Lang to write up to their potential. That's not to say that they don't succeed on some of the other songs (they do) or that they don't bring the same craftsmanship to other types of musical genres (again, they often do), but that these more swinging numbers seem to play particularly well to their strengths as writers and to Kosins' strengths as a singer. 

Kosins has increased the interest factor on this album by choosing some pretty obscure yet nice covers, bypassing the usual Gershwin and Rodgers/Hart songs in favor of material most listeners won't be familiar with. "Maybe September" is the album's standout ballad, with a romantic candlelight vibe (in the person of vibraphonist Rob Pipho) and tenor sax player Shawn "Thunder" Wallace. "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You", written by Don Redman and "Fats" Waller lyricist Andy Razaf, is given a bluesy workout that at times recalls Dinah Washington's way with a popular lyric and melody. Finally, there is Jackie Gleason's "Melancholy Serenade", an unusual number by any reckoning that might be more accurately defined as exotica than jazz, but which is nevertheless delivered effectively by Kosins and her crew. As the song floats along and the CD comes to its end, you can't help but look outside to see if the sky is glowing in that peculiar way that can only mean dawn is about to arrive. 

Overall, Kosins' second album demonstrates that she's made significant strides as a vocalist and songwriter, and should be capable of amazing work in the future. Mood Swings, while still a bit uneven in places, is a fitting record of her progress and an entertaining listen for jazzbos and romantics alike.