There is a striking symbiosis here between vocalist Eric van Aro and pianist Fabio Gianni, who also co-arranged Obsession. Together, they transform a clutch of pop songs in new jazz favorites and uncover a lost classic or two – all while working with an endlessly fascinating unity of vision. They are, even when working with a few choice collaborators late in the proceedings, joined at the musical hip.
Gianni’s darkly resonant instrument, for instance, sets a plaintive atmosphere for van Aro’s Johnny Hartman-esque entrance on the moving Sammy Davis Jr.-by-way-of-Paul Anka gem “I’m Not Anyone.” But van Aro doesn’t stay in one place for long, exploring the empowering lyric with an emotional sweep that shakes off his initial sad resignation in favor of a hard-eyed determination. Meanwhile, there’ Gianni’s solo. Rather than underlining that anthem-like bravado, it instead strikes a more panoramic stance – adding a sense of twinkling reminiscence that offers van Aro a chance to start a slow burn all over again once he returns to the microphone. He then ends “I’m Not Anyone” with another thunderous assertion, before a final delicately touching turn from Gianni.
Obsession provides van Aro with some intriguing choices in material, beginning with Dr. John’s deep cut “Rain” (from 1978’s City Lights) – which finds the singer growling to great effect. But even where the album might feel familiar, as on Buddy Johnson’s “Since I Fell For You,” van Aro mixes things up: He and Gianni give the track a late-night saloon feel, more controlled and ultimately more filled with hurt than most who approach this familiar lyric. Paul Williams’ “Ordinary Fool,” the last of the EP’s duo recordings, is given a spritely feel – like these two are skipping in between the raindrops.
Van Aro and Gianni are then joined by guest vocalist Sheri Pedigo for a tender reworking of the 1979 hit “With You, I’m Born Again” from Billy Preston and Syreeta Wright. Gianni provides a reserved accompaniment, without the period-piece strings that gave the original an overly sentimental feel – and this track is utterly reborn. Percussionists Alex Battini de Barreiro and Sabastiano Mambretti then add an insistent energy to the title track, opening the door for a jazzy performance from van Aro that has all of the inventiveness of classic vocalese.
Finally, van Aro is joined by the Latin-flavored Iguazu trio for a similarly engaging take on Stevie Wonder’s “Dancing in Rhythm” to close out Obsession, a highly recommended effort co-produced by van Aro and Antonio Chindamo.