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Torch

by Michael Pronko

Torch is a four-piece group dedicated to jazz vocal classics performed with sleek retro cool. Rather than just re-create the past, though, they inject a fresh sexiness into their music. Even amid the recent vocal jazz boom, they have their own unique take on the genre that relies on earnest analog values and which is wonderfully captured on two CDs to date. Torch will play a handful of dates throughout Japan starting next week.

Central to their sound is the distinctive phrasing and unswerving hipness of vocalist Seela. She succeeds — where many recent vocalists have faltered — in melding her own style with those from the past. Seela came from Canada to the vibrant music scene in Austin, Texas, where a diversity of past musical styles continues to thrive amid new musical attitudes. Once there, she sang with several bands, released her own CD and eventually got together with a like-minded trio. Chris Vestre’s hollow-body electric guitar and the nimble bass and drum rhythms fit her voice with casual perfection.

Their two releases, “Before the Night Is Over” and “Sounds for Staying Home,” showcase classic tunes though their originals sound just like standards themselves. Special to these recordings is the warm, tube-amp sound and the crisp interplay of the group. Their supple swing and pared-down arrangements completely refurbish tunes like “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Bye Bye Blackbird.” The band polishes it all up with West Coast jazz, traditional swing and the occasional modal touch here and there. That, and the deep playful purr of Seela’s voice, make this group truly special.