"Deborah is a beautiful singer and a great talent. Fig Tree is wonderful. Really wonderful!"
— Sheila Jordan, 2012 NEA Jazz Master
Following her previously acclaimed discs Toward Love and Lifeline, FIG TREE is a wide ranging and ambitious project, backed by a remarkable set of players, that includes acid jazz, spellbinding ballads, songs in Portuguese and Greek, and three originals worthy of becoming new standards.
Latz takes on each genre with confidence and style demonstrating skills reminiscent of Mel Torme in her purity and pitch, but also of Joao Gilberto when she brings us to velvety intimate moments. Deborah has a distinctive sound as wide ranging as her musical interests - gentle pianissimo at times, and edgy and brassy when she is showing us a spark of fire or irony. And, like Betty Carter, she can deconstruct a song to create a surprising new sound, uniquely her own.
In June 2011, Latz formed a group with pianist Jon Davis, guitarist John Hart and bassist Ray Parker. Within a short time, they knew they needed to record the magic that they were creating. Deborah notes, “We found an organic, rooted, musical place where we all created in the moment. We took our time to allow the ideas to develop, and within just a few months, the vibe was there. I realized I had to capture it while it was fresh.”
Latz’ recording career began in 2004 with her debut CD, Toward Love featuring Jimmy Wormworth, which earned immediate praise: “Her voice rings with a fetching richness…I’m Bewitched.” (Dan McClenaghan, AllAboutJazz.com) “...one of the BEST new voices I’ve heard in a LONG time....” (Jan Jenson, Jazz Now). Her 2008 sophomore release Lifeline featuring Joel Frahm, received even wider critical acclaim: “‘I Didn’t Know’ hits glory strides à lá Carla White.” — Fred Bouchard, DownBeat. “I hadn’t heard this lady until I played ‘Lifeline,’ but I’m now an ardent fan.” — Steve Emerine, Arizona Daily Star. “...a sensibility that incites a lyric with her innate dramatic instincts...” — Alan Bargebuhr, Cadence. “Latz knows how to deliver the songs with a different slant... jazz vocal fans have a new star to celebrate.”
— Chris Spector, Midwest Record.
On “Blue Skies” Latz shows her funk chops, and allows the lyrics to breath, while offering some signature scatting. John Hart sets up hip, clean guitar lines, while Ray Parker and Willard Dyson hold down the rhythm on bass and drums. Latz’ original and title track, “Fig Tree” weaves a fantastical tale combining offbeat syllables and unexpected sounds with a swinging bass and drums. Latz’ whimsical lyrics surprise and delight, and the solos alternate in and out of time with Latz, Davis and Hart clearly digging in and having a ball. “You Are” another Latz original, opens with the prodigious Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax. Apfelbaum lays the groundwork for this indelible love poem told with Latz’ fresh and poignant delivery intertwining with the tenor sax, while Willard Dyson’s sparse percussion lends an otherworldly take. And on the breathtakingly beautiful duet, “Moon River,” Jon Davis is a genius as he caresses the keys, while Latz answers with a devastatingly heartfelt delivery.
FIG TREE is richly shaped and supported by veteran jazz artists Jon Davis on piano, John Hart on guitars, Ray Parker on bass, Willard Dyson on drums, and special guests Peter Apfelbaum on saxes, flutes, percussion and Abdoulaye Diabate, guest voice on Latz’ original “She Was.” Collectively these jazz veterans have played and recorded with Sonny Fortune, Stan Getz, James Moody, Maria Schneider, Randy Brecker, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Cobb, Regina Belle, Michael Franks, Rosa Passos, Jon Hendricks, Jimmy Scott, Don Byron, Jaco Pastorious, and Omar Sosa, among many others.
FIG TREE is truly a major accomplishment. It is, in fact, Latz’ breakout performance as vocalist, songwriter, and arranger. From the acid jazz interpretation of “Blue Skies,” to the dead-on rendition of “S’Wonderful,” to the delightful, funky rhythms of “Fig Tree,” Deborah Latz demonstrates an outstanding range of technique and creative musicality that places her at the forefront of jazz today.
— Scott Yanow, Fig Tree liner notes
“West Coast/East Coast vocalist Deborah Latz has release two well- received CDs to date: 2004's Toward Love and 2008's Lifeline (both on June Moon Productions). Coming from a stage background, Latz has no problem instilling drama into her interpretations and does so without sounding like she is trying too hard, a pitfall of many of her contemporaries. Latz has a probing and brilliant alto voice that can achieve several ends at the same time. She can readily conquer the sharp edges of progressively arranged standards like the opening "Blue Skies" while sustaining an alway challenging, ultra-slow tempo as on the wholly transformed Cole Porter, "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To." Latz's approach to the standard material is fiercely unique and comparable only to the Tierney Sutton Band's recent recordings, American Road (BFM, 2011) and Desire (Telarc, 2008).
"Blue Skies" is given a nervous, urban instrumental treatment, with Latz stretching the phrasing dramatically to the point where the phrasing threatens to lose momentum. But there is no loss, the power velocity is rock steady. Guitarist John Hart provides a jagged edge in his solo, as well as his obligato behind Latz. Jon Davis' piano adds a taste of the islands bolstered by Willard Dyson's deft drumming. "You'd Be So Nice..." is completely reimagined as a Shirley Horn blues slow-drag, introduced with piano and arco bass before establishing its reharmonized direction. Davis channels Gene Harris' blues sensibility in his solo.
In "I'm Having A Good Time," Latz finds her Billie Holiday muse, bolstered by Hart's tasty blues guitar and Davis' two-fisted piano playing. "Embraceable You" and "Corcovado" make an interesting internal diptych, the former experimental and bracing (Latz and bassist Parker duet) and the latter sleek and smooth, as breezy as it should be, again featuring Hart's handy guitar work. The closing "Moon River" is somber and slightly dissonant and easily the slowest tempo on the record. Singing slow is one of the most challenging things for a singer to do. Latz is in there with the best of them: Horn and Rebecca Parris.
Latz's original compositions are provocative. "You Are" features Peter Apfelbaum tenor saxophone sparing with Latz to a draw, giving equal attention to both voices in this unusual duet. Edgy and unsettled "You Are" only anticipates the equally challenging "She was." Latz is not a devoted genre-breaker, opting to color within the line, just sometimes she moves those lines.” — C. Michael Bailey, ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Fig Tree opens with Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies", but not in the usual, merely jaunty interpretation. Acid jazz in feel, it foreshadows that this third solo outing from Deborah Latz is definitely not going to be business as usual. Possessed of a range as wide as her clear soprano is lovely, Latz' take on "Blue Skies" is a swift, danceable mix, which includes scatting and extended hums. Totally rocking in company with jazz veterans Jon Davis (piano), John Hart (acoustic and electric guitars), Ray Parker (bass) and Willard Dyson (drums), there is happy certainty to Latz' singing.
Nowhere is that more evident than when she tears loose in homage to Alberta Hunter with "I'm Having A Good Time". Of course Latz' voice is totally different from the late blues great, but when it comes to blowing the roof of the joint, they are totally sisters in the life spirit.
If Latz sways irresistibly with Brazilian gems like "E Luxo So" and "Corcovado" ("Quiet Nights"), she is no less adept with an American songbook classic like George and Ira Gershwin's ""S'Wonderful". With each "marvelous" and "wonderful", her light touch as she pauses becomes a moment of self-discovery. Here Hart's guitar provides the most sympathetic of accompaniment.
The title song of the set is one of a quartet of her originals, a whimsical delight, evoking happy comparison to the vocalese gems of yore from Lambert, Hendricks and Ross in its musical savvy. The closer is a Latz-Davis duo on Henry Mancini-Johnny Mercer's familiar "Moon River". As lucid as it is breathtaking, it is music of the sort that happens when the best companions get together. That's how this Fig Tree is throughout.” — by Andrew Vélez, NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD
“On her third outing, Latz takes it over the top giving hipsters a few lessons on what is really hip as well as reframing what it means to give a performance. Showing the kind of jazz soul that can't be the product of an act, Latz hits it out of the park with such élan that the repeat button is your friend. Hot stuff that delivers throughout.” — Chris Spector, MIDWEST RECORD
“...indulge yourself with this fresh jazz voice. As far as I know, jazz centers on improvisation and interpretation while delving into a palette of vibrant emotions. And if that’s the case, Ms Latz is spot on.”
— Patricia Herlevi, THE WHOLE MUSIC EXPERIENCE