Akosua Gyebi, better known as Kosi, released a well-received first album called One More Cup Of Coffee last year on her own label. The follow up, titled Pictures of Us, simply knocks your socks off.
She opens with a gorgeous, heartfelt rendition of Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington’s “Wild is the Wind,” a song that finds Kosi’s voice soaring over her steadfast collaborators. She is joined on the album by Jonathan Rooke on vocals, Angeleisha ‘Trumpetess’ Rodgers on trumpet and flugelhorn, Brendan Biagi on tenor saxophone, Aron Marchak and Dan Saulpaugh on guitar, Julian Smith on bass and Isiah Pierce on drums. This version of the song is gorgeous.
Kosi originals make up the rest of Pictures of Us, as we are treated to tales of the heart, reveries and ballads. “I Already Know” is a deliciously emotional tale of heartbreak and includes a glorious saxophone solo. “Brianna” sees Kosi at her story-bearing best, with a lovely bass solo from Smith in the mid-section. “The Star Crossed Lovers” starts with an acoustic solo from Marchak before the vocals take over with a sonorous melody. Voice and guitar interplay through the track, creating a distinctive melancholic atmosphere. Kosi’s voice has matured almost beyond recognition and here it is used to the full. It is gorgeous, rounded and has a distinctive quality and depth of timbre.
The title track is a duet with Kosi and Rooke, augmented by the trumpet playing of Rodgers and guitar solo from Marchak. “Your Angel” is a beautiful song, as Kosi uses her voice fully across the octaves in this ballad. The emotional quality of her voice carries the listener, but loses nothing of the quality. “Valerie” is a tale of lost love, and a life ruled by regret with another devastating solo from the saxophone of Biagi.
This is followed by the divergent “Untitled Art Song (in E minor),” which sees Kosi play with the melody until Saulpaugh on guitar introduces a Mediterranean essence. The rest of the track is delightful, with guitar and voice interacting beautifully. The anger and feeling in Kosi’s voice is powerful and haunting, beautifully off-set by the gentle, lilting influence of the guitar.
“Hoboken Blues” is a bluesy number, as the title suggests, and conjures up images of a sleazy nightclub of the ’40s. Another facet of Kosi’s voice is demonstrated, as she revs up the sassiness in this number. The driving rhythm upheld by the musicians en masse, coupled with Kosi’s vocals make this a catchy, foot-tapping song. “Lovers Song (Be the One)” ends the album with a gentle, swing number — and it leaves the listener on a high, and wanting more.
You can hear Kosi’s influences in her music — from Simone to Porter, Evans to Albinez — but Kosi is her own woman. What struck me on this listen was how much she has matured in just over a year. Her first album was good; this is excellent. Her music is authentic, from the heart, and her voice is blissful to listen to. She is fulfilling the early promise she showed. She has the range and tone of an angel yet the throatiness and devilment of a banshee.
Her trump card has been surrounding herself with musicians who understand and tune in to her messages. They support her vocal talent, weaving in and out where needed, fading and coming back in just where needed and also producing, at times, their own special solos. This is an album of beauty.