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Simply put, not many jazz singers release a remix album. And not many singers, of any genre, put one out as a followup to their debut.
But expect Elizabeth Shepherd to deliver the unexpected. Her first musical performances were in her church’s brass band, she admits a passion for house music, she learned to scat by singing along to hip hop and although you’ll find her first album Start To Move in the jazz section, you’d be hard-pressed to describe her style with just one word. Funk, soul, blues, samba: It would be simpler to say what she’s not.
Whether Shepherd’s a wild card or simply the new breed of jazz musicianship, she’s at least definable as a songstress with several tricks up her sleeve. Her album Besides, released this week, collects a team of globe-trotting knob-twiddlers — DJs from the UK, Croatia, Toronto and Tokyo pumped up her songs into dance floor rhythms — and tosses in a few B-sides to boot. Since Shepherd is looking forward to recording her next original album in the fall with bassist Scott Kemp and drummer Colin Kingsmore, why release a series of rejigged songs halfway between her first album and her second?
“The way I view it, we’re still touring for Start To Move, the debut album, and we had all these remixes,” she says. “So it’s just kind of to keep the ball rolling. We had the stuff, so we just wanted to get it out.”
The result, she says, surprised even her a little. Shepherd notes one remix even inspired a new take on her live performance of the original as she decided to incorporate a few funkier elements.
“It was entirely their personal take on the project,” she says of the DJs’ freedom with her material. “Which is very interesting to hear. Sometimes I prefer them to the original songs — it’s like, ‘Wow, you did even better than we did.’”
While one reviewer mused on whether the remix collection signalled a shift in Shepherd’s style, she quickly snuffs out the theory.
“If I said we were changing directions, I wouldn’t say we were going in an electronic direction — we’re definitely still going to be acoustic,” she says. “I’m still caught between the whole (jazz crowd) and the dance floor audience and, ideally, I’d like to work both. I don’t see why, as humans, we have to limit ourselves to anything. I think we can do it all.”