Marianne Solivan doesn’t waste a second before setting the mood for this stimulating 13-track program. On the set opener, the singer’s self-composed title tune, her voice explodes like a Roman candle at an Independence Day celebration. Sonic rays of vividly nuanced vocal inflections burst over the accompanying piano trio’s aggressive comping, quickly drawing listeners into Solivan’s world. There’s an air of urgency in her delivery as she intones, “I want to touch your cheek and feel your temperature rise,” as though she can’t wait for the next phase of this romantic encounter to unfold. With more than a bit of visceral sexiness in her vivacious attack, Spark is the perfect title for this seductive set.
Solivan radiates the same saucy personality on a cookin’ cover of Oscar Brown, Jr.’s “Hum Drum Blues,” one of the session’s most riveting takes. The trio’s members get a good opportunity to introduce themselves on this long-form arrangement. Matthew Parrish is in at the top, creating a fat, sinuous walking line on his double bass. Pianist Xavier Davis’ reading of the tune’s bluesy vibe is spot on, with fistfuls of tremolo accents. Drummer Gregory Hutchinson provides most of the trio’s gritty character, favoring flashy snare drum work and an arsenal of cymbal crashes that add surges of edgy vigor.
Only three of the date’s tracks — tunes by Gershwin, Mercer and Loesser — qualify as true evergreens. Solivan prefers her own creative instincts, displayed on four self-penned works, or on lesser-known songs by others composers. Francesca Blumenthal’s marvelously-titled “The Lies of Handsome Men,” for one, is a ballad that unfolds with a gentle pulse, and Solivan sings the song as though she might have some personal knowledge about the topic at hand. The surprise inclusion of salsa composer Rubén Blades’ “El Cantante” (The Singer) reveals yet another facet of Solivan’s talents. Her Spanish is flawless and, like the rest of the set, the lyrics are delivered with a blend of zesty urban hipness and soulful introspection that underscores her singular appeal. — Mark Holston