Each of the eleven original songs on the new album by jazz singer Fiona Ross can stand alone as a remarkable music track. Would you expect anything less from an expert who helped ready Ed Sheeran and Rita Ora, among others, for industry success? But the individual cuts on Black, White and a Little Bit of Grey, a concept album, add up to more than just professional acuity and artistic purpose. A soul revealed, comes to mind.
Released Nov. 17th, Black, White and a Little Bit of Grey is a collection of perfectly pitched vocal gymnastics which will leave you breathless. Classically trained, Fiona Ross’s singing is musically sensitive within a refined jazz intricacy. The London-based songstress has such command and control over her voice, you get the idea the artist can reel off a set of intricately phrased notes at any given moment. And she can.
Available on Amazon, Apple iTunes and Spotify, during the opening, title track of the album, the band grooves in a pleasant triple-time, while Ross sings over the beat, never missing a measure. The result is a memorable composition highlighting the singer’s distinct brand of music. Next up, “Busy…Always Busy,” a bass-driven melody, features a suave jazz coolness by way of an impeccable accompanying band. As usual, the rhythm section shines.
Ross works within a distinct style, serving up a variety of contemporary arrangements. Congas and drums set the pace on “The Poor Wife,” while the 4:29 “That Moment” has a funk-infused flavor. The song list from Black, White and a Little Bit of Grey, the artist’s second 2017 release, also includes two tracks, “Mistress” and “I Broke The Rules,” featuring Ross singing in a stairwell. But this only begins to describe the passionate music mix. Make room for some beautifully wicked saxophone leads in “The Sex” and delicious guitar solos throughout “So Cold,” as well as other titles.
An Interview with Fiona Ross
Fiona Ross discusses Black, White and a Little Bit of Grey, Ed Sheeran, indie music and more.
You recently described Black, White and a Little Bit of Grey as a concept album, grey being the area where pain and passion become intertwined. Which of the songs best conveys that feeling?
Well, all the songs on the album explore different elements of an affair, with the characters of the wife, mistress and husband looking at the greyness from different angles. I think “Mistress” really demonstrates the pain and passion of being in love with someone you can’t have, from the view point of the mistress, of course. The reviews of the song have been amazing and I wasn’t expecting people to be so moved by them. “The Evidence Suggests” explores the pain of a husband who is trying to do the right thing by staying in an unhappy relationship, feeling suffocated and isolated from the time he spends with his mistress. Of course, this includes immense feelings of guilt, mixed with the passion of the moment. It is very easy to look at affairs in black and white and of course, there is a right and a wrong. But it is not as simple as that. You can’t help who you fall in love with. Even doing the so-called right thing can be painful. Many people say you should follow you heart, but it’s not that simple and not just black and white.
“Mistress” and “I Broke the Rules” include two remarkable stairway vocal takes. Tell us how that came about and where were they recorded?
Thank you. Well, none of it was planned. I was in the studio recording some vocals and went outside for a bit of fresh air. I was still singing while walking down the stairs, just working out some vocal bits really. The acoustics in the stairwell were amazing and I loved singing there. My voice felt freer somehow and less restricted. I much prefer singing live than in a studio environment. So, I was suddenly inspired to try recording the vocal for the two ballads.
The stairwell is a public area with no soundproofing and there was no way to block it off while we recorded. I discussed this with my engineer and guitarist, Gibbi Bettini, and he was up for the challenge. Having less risk of being interrupted, we waited until quite late and set up camp on the stairs. Helping us were two studios interns, Samuel Marin and Leah McBean Willis, who were fab. We did four takes of both songs and then picked the one with the least amount of external noise. You can just about hear the helicopter in the background at one point and I kind of love that because it shows it was live. We used Studio XYZ, which is owned by Gibbi Bettini. I love the studio and he [Gibbi] is amazingly talented.
Can you talk a little bit about your vocal range?
I have always had a large range I guess, around three octaves if I’m thoroughly warmed up. I was classically trained and have a good understanding of what I should and shouldn’t do. Being disciplined, I exercise my voice every day to make sure it stays as flexible as it can be. I love playing around with my vocals and using everything available. Although it is never intentional, it just happens. In the studio, I kind of went off in some direction that I hadn’t planned on, but we just went with the moment. I surprised myself by singing so high.
Your music label is ℗ 2017 Therapy Records. Is that related to the album concept?
Well, though not related to the album, music is my therapy. It is the thing that keeps me sane and I really can’t function without it. Music is powerful with the emotional connection being different for everyone. But there is a connection nonetheless. It just made sense to call the label Therapy.
While the head of the British Academy of New Music in London for nine years, you trained, among others, Ed Sheeran and Rita Ora. Did you see their greatness back then?
I was so lucky to see such an amazing array of talent while working there. People talk about that “X Factor.” It’s a reality some people do have that undefinable thing. But for me, what stands out is not just the talent, but the attitude that goes with it. Being genuine, disciplined, working hard, immersing yourself and respecting your craft is important. Yes, Ed and Rita always stood out, pretty much from when they started and all the other students always spoke about them as ones to watch, the tutors too.
What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing independent music artists?
There are so many. I think one of the hardest elements is getting good gigs. Venues, understandably, want to know that you will bring in an audience and sell tickets. It is a business after all. You must prove your worth through social media followers and interaction, press, reviews, etc. and not just through your music. Social media has become an essential part of a musician’s work, which can be hard. It has taken me a while to adjust to this, I must admit. It can be a challenge staying true and genuine. I am naturally an introvert and happiest just hiding behind my piano most of the time. Posting photos and talking about me is hard. But I post more photos of my musicians than me. I’m always happy to do that.
Black, White and a Little Bit of Grey is the second album you released this year. Looking ahead, do you have any new projects planned for 2018?
Gigs, gigs and more gigs. I’m looking forward to getting out there and just playing. I love working with my musicians; we have so much fun. I’ve started writing a little bit, but at the moment I don’t know where that will lead. However, I probably will be looking at releasing another album at some point next year.
We have to ask, while riding in the car, or maybe just relaxing at home, what songs do you like to sing?
I love all sorts of music and pretty much have something playing all the time, if I’m not working on my own material. I might sing along to some Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Prince or Earth, Wind and Fire most days. As a pianist, I also listen to a lot of Michel Camilo and Hiromi, who are my biggest piano-based inspirations.