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Zahyia's "Chapter 45" traverses soul, jazz, and rock


Formerly the frontwoman of progressive soul-jazz outfit Vanishing Sun, charismatic singer-songwriter Zahyia Rolle has come into her own creatively as the solo artist known simply as Zahyia. Her debut full-length solo album, “Chapter 45,” was released on March 11 via Benevolent Mischief Music, and finds her emerging from the heavily layered sound of her former band and delivering a self-reflective performance.

“What you are hearing is my musical journal,” Zahyia writes in the liner notes. “You are hearing my ancestors, my God, my children, and my journey of evolving through COVID in my 45th year of physical existence.”

Packing nearly 50 minutes of music into only eight tracks, Zahyia gives listeners an unsurprisingly eclectic mix of jazz-soul jaunts, serene spiritual ballads, and well-executed covers — with smatterings of R&B and hard rock.

The album opens with a new arrangement of “Foul SoulChild,” which originally appeared on the 2020 Vanishing Sun album “64.” Gone are the trippy tonal modulations and rhythmic shifts, in favor of a more straight-forward smooth jazz approach. Former Vanishing Sun members Quinn Lawrence and Luis Carrion do much to enhance the groove, on saxophone and bass, respectively, while The Mighty High & Dry frontman Alan Murphy supplies tasteful harmonic content on the keyboard.

Spoken word factors prominently on the record, particularly amid the hiccupped syncopations of the jazzy “Why Love,” the heavy-metal-infused “Fighting the Sickness (Fire Tablet),” and a reboot of the Gil Scott-Heron classic “Whitey on the Moon,” reimagined here as “Rich Man Flying to Mars.”

“One Step Away” and “Long Healing Prayer — Meditation Offering,” which closes the album, are calming songs of praise that reflect Zahyia’s deep interest in the Baha’i Faith. Zahyia’s cover of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” interpreted here with Latin flair, and a mercurial hard-rock version of Britney Spears’s “Circus” seem to come out of nowhere, but both are inspired choices.

As a singer, Zahyia’s expressive and robust timbre carries each tune. At times, however, insecure pitch control detracts from the melodies. In “One Step Away,” for example, breathy delivery causes stray notes to sound flat, hanging just under the desired pitch. The distraction is temporary, but this kind of inconsistency occurs throughout the album.

Produced by Zahyia and mixed and mastered by Matt Ramerman at The Green Room, “Chapter 45” is the work of an intensely driven artist whose stylistic individuality is her greatest asset. Though it’s not perfectly executed, the beautifully honest album contains performances that require multiple listens.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s arts editor. He can be reached at [email protected].