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Not the next Ella or Sarah but the first Sophie Milman

The young Canadian singer impresses in her Southern California debut at Catalina.

August 29, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Personal authenticity isn't a phrase that surfaces very often in descriptions of young jazz singers. More commonly, the ability to emulate the stylings of noble predecessors -- "She's the next Ella!" -- is enough to trigger instant praise.

Not so with Sophie Milman, who seems far more concerned with following her own muse than establishing her 52nd Street cred as the next jazz somebody. Her Southland club debut Monday at Catalina Bar & Grill was as impressive for her individuality as for her sheer joy in the art of making music.

Most of her songs came from her first CD, "Sophie Milman," and her just-released "Make Someone Happy." And from the very first whiskey and honey notes of "It Might as Well Be Spring," it was obvious she is one of a kind.

Quirky qualities that other singers might have worked to alter -- her tendency to end long notes with a quavering vibrato; a sometimes jarring juxtaposition of soft and loud phrases -- have instead become colorful elements in a highly personalized style.

Milman's rhythm-driven numbers -- especially during a quick pass from the Guess Who's "Undun" to the standard "Exactly Like You" -- possessed the swing of straight-ahead jazz spiced with a rock music-like intensity reaching back to Janis Joplin.

On "(It's Not Easy) Bein' Green," which has quickly become one of her signature numbers, she displayed another, more intimate, more vulnerable quality. Here, as elsewhere, her vocals were filtered through her experiences of her relatively short 24 years. Milman's early life as an immigrant -- to Israel from the Soviet Union at age 7, from Israel to Canada at 15 -- included constant exposure to her parents' eclectic collection of LPs. And her singing is a transformation -- without imitation -- of the spirit and soul of that music and that life experience.

Milman gave her quartet featured numbers at the opening and halfway through her set as well as plenty of solo opportunities throughout the program. That made sense, since her relationship with her players -- at this point in her career -- is a fundamental aspect of her music.

Still evolving, still putting all the pieces together, Milman still has a lot to learn. But she's obviously a fast learner, and as long as she can remain true to her vision, the sky's the limit for this exceptional young talent.

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