Obsession. Does it sound like an unusual title for an album of songs? Not at all. And certainly not when the songs are sung by
the gifted European singer, Eric van Aro, who brings his uniquely imaginative ideas to everything he does. And in this case, the title he
chose is perfectly appropriate for several reasons.
Start with the simple, logical fact that the album title was inspired by one of the seven items in this far-ranging collection:
the Dori Caymmi song, “Obsession,” its presence an indication of Eric’s deep affection for Brazilian music. Add to that a definition:
an obsession is a “persistent idea, impulse or desire.”
And call the title a perfect description of Eric’s passionate love of virtually all forms of music. All of which makes it completely logical that
he should apply it to a group of songs of the sort that have attracted his creative attention since he was a musically obsessed teen-ager.
But the musical perceptions that came to mind when I first heard Eric in action on the seven songs in Obsession reached well beyond the
definition of the word obsession, and deeply into the arena of imaginative expressiveness. Why? Because his vocals are immediately
notable for the manner in which they find the inner heart of every song he chooses to sing. Perhaps, too, because he is multi-lingual in
Italian, French, German and English, Eric displays all the qualities of a born musical story teller. And his abundant interpretive skills have
no doubt been enhanced by his remarkable musical linage. Eric’s mother is the much-honored, iconic Italian singing star, Caterina Valente.
At a time when the jazz vocal world has seen a diminishing flow of appealing male singers, it’s a welcome pleasure to hear Eric in action
on Obsession, backed by the stirring piano of Italian jazz artist Fabio Gianni. Enhancing his expressive story-telling with a propulsive
sense of rhythmic swing, a warm, arching baritone voice and an intuitive gift for melodic phrasing, Eric has begun to make a convincing
case for himself as an intriguing new arrival with the potential for a bright future in the contemporary music world.
Let’s take a look at the stellar collection of songs Eric has chosen for his “Obsession.”
1. “I’m Not Anyone.” Eric says he was more interested in progressive rock when he first became aware of this Paul Anka work. But when
he saw Sammy Davis, Jr. sing it on one of his TV specials in the early ’70s, Eric knew that one day he would sing it, too. “It just says
everything about how I feel in general,” he notes. “And the fact that Sammy was a friend of Mom’s and that later on I did meet him also
had its part.” Listen to the mood-establishing accompaniment by pianist Gianni in the first of five tunes in which he and Eric find the
perfect piano and voice creative partnership
2. “Since I Fell For You.” This hugely popular blues driven ballad was a hit as early as the ‘40s for Annie Laurie, and as recently as 2011
for George Benson. Eric sings it often in his live performances, where the audiences, he says, “go crazy for it, because they know the
song so well.” Here, too, pianist Gianni sets an irresistible groove.
3. “Rain.” Recorded by its composer – Dr. John – in 1978, “Rain” is remembered by Eric for its superb arrangement for strings by Claus
Ogerman. “When I heard the song arranged by Claus, with such great melodic and lyric writing by Dr. John, a very special artist I like a lot”
says Eric, “It had to become part of my repertoire.” There’s no lush string section backing him, but with Gianni’s musically intimate backing
none is needed.
4. “Ordinary Fool.” Written by Paul Williams for the 1976 musical gangster film, Bugsy Malone. But Eric was originally drawn to the song by
the jazz-driven version done by Mel Tormé in his 1977 “Tormé – A New Album”. Aided by Fabio Gianni’s gently swinging backing, Eric finds
his own jazz vitality in the tune.
5. “With You I’m Born Again” was written by Academy Award and Grammy-winning composer/songwriter David Shire, a friend of Eric’s
family who worked with Caterina Valente on the popular TV series, The Entertainers Variety Show, in the ‘60s. Eric is joined by American
country singer/songwriter Sheri Pedigo, who agreed to sing with him during a visit to his home in Switzerland. “Sheri asked if I had any
song in mind,” recalls Eric, “and I told her that David Shire’s ‘With You I’m Born Again’ was always on my mind. She didn’t exactly recognize
the song, even though there’s a recording of it by Billy Preston and Syreeta. But she said the title sounded familiar since Carol Connors
had sent her a song with a similar title. We soon found out that we were talking about the same song…so then and there we decided to
record it! And I’m happy to say that both Carol and David were delighted with the result.”
6. “Obsession.” It’s the Dori Caymmi tune that inspired Eric’s album title. “Those who know me and my family,” he says, “know that Brazilian
music is an important part of our lives.” And with good reason. Caterina Valente was one of the first to bring bossa nova to the US and
Europe even before Joao and Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz. In fact, she started singing and recording songs by Jobim and Bonfa in 1959,
and sang and played bossa nova on the Perry Como television show in 1961. “Brazilian music is in my blood,” says Eric. “When I heard
‘Obsession’ sung by Sarah Vaughan, whom I simply adored, I knew that one day I would have to sing it in a Brazilian percussion version.
I just had to wait for the right moment. And here it is.”
7. “Dancing To The Rhythm.” A Stevie Wonder classic. And, as Eric notes: “Who doesn’t like to sing Stevie Wonder?” He’s responded to his
own question with an interpretation that underscores how much he loves to sing songs by the one and only Wonder. Every note is further
enhanced by the high spirited vitality of the connection between Eric and the Iguazu Acoustic Trio, who also performed together on previous
recordings. “It does not get any better than this,” concludes Eric. “It’s what being in this line of work is all about.”
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