For the past three years, Perth singer Lucy Iffla has been rummaging through second hand bookshops in WA, searching for novels by celebrated Brazilian author Paulo Coelho.
His unique lyrical prose – incorporating spirituality, magical realism and folklore – inspired Iffla to write her new jazz-infused album You Are Home.
“I felt a connection and familiarity with Paulo’s writing and was intrigued by the spiritual and religious responses and perspectives,” Iffla says.
“His stories weren’t always about ‘love’, ‘heartbreak’, ‘cheating’ and ‘sex’, but about real-world problems.
“I didn’t want to write songs about the common themes of love and drugs…I wanted to write about misinterpretation, feeling the warmth of home, finding who you are, greed, connection and the simple joys of life.”
A former WAAPA student, Iffla says she always been a bit of a hippie, going back to her teenage years: “I hated wearing shoes, and at one point had a total of 300 different crystals, rocks and gemstones displayed in my bedroom, along with dream catchers and tapestries,” she says.
“Although my style has certainly developed, this side has remained with me and my curiosity with religion and spirituality remains strong.”
The soulful songs on You Are Home shun vocal gymnastics in favour of aching melodies and beautiful phrasing.
At times she sounds like Norah Jones backed by a hip, modern jazz quartet, but it never strays into self-indulgence.
Although steeped in jazz, Iffla wanted to present the melody in its purest form and not abstract the music so much that it lost its meaning and emotional impact.
A bit like her favourite writer Coelho, who used succinct sentences to great effect in The Alchemist, Eleven Minutes and The Fifth Mountain.
“Simplifying a melody has been a challenge when writing this album, as coming from a jazz background, melodies are usually quite complex,” Iffla says.
“But I’ve enjoyed this and know it’ll be an ongoing journey for years to come.
“My first love for singing started after obsessing over Taylor Swift’s first couple of albums…me and every other young girl at the time.
“During a dig through my grandma’s shed, I fell in love with an Ella Fitzgerald vinyl. It was such a foreign sound – horns, swing and instrumental solos – but for some reason at the age of 14, I was obsessed.
“The depth, tone and flexibility of her voice was mesmerising, and I was determined to sound like Ella or if anything encapsulate her vocal integrity and diverse range of tones.”
With a gorgeous, rich voice that belies her 25 years, Iffla has been performing jazz standards and the music of Ella Fitzgerald for more than a decade at clubs and festivals across Australia, as a well a five year stint with the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra and appearing on albums by Daniel Susnjar and Mace Francis Plus 11.
Her new album features a who’s who of the Perth jazz scene with Matthew Gudgeon (guitar/vocals), Harry Mitchell (piano/keys), Alistair Peel (double bass), Ricki Malet (trumpet), and Ben Vanderwal (drums/vocals).
Despite her success in the jazz field, Iffla says she sort of fell into the genre and is keen to explore other musical styles.
“After graduating, I wouldn’t say I was running away from jazz, but I felt the urge to go back to what I knew – artists like James Taylor who made me love the lyrics and story told by simpler melodies in comparison to most jazz standards I’ve heard,” she says.
“Although I’m drawn to swing, I value the straight harmony and rhythm you find in folk arrangements. It’s quite beautiful to rearrange a folk song with some spicy jazz chords and rhythms…and it can work so well juxtaposed with a refined folk melody.”
You Are Home is being released on November 3 with a special launch gig on Sunday November 5 at The Rechabite, Northbridge as part of the Perth International Jazz Festival 2023. Tix at megatix.com.au.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK