Fascinated from an early age by the diversity of the world’s languages and cultures, vocalist Allison Adams Tucker offers a travel memoir in song on her third album, WANDERlust. Tucker sings in six languages on the album, which vividly captures the yearning of the inveterate travel for the romance and adventure of experiencing far-flung corners of the globe.
Recorded in New York City under the direction of award-winning producer Matt Pierson (Brad Mehldau, Becca Stevens, Joshua Redman, Jane Monheit), WANDERlust features a stunning all-star ensemble that not only bridges west and east coasts but adds flavors from around the world. The singer and her longtime pianist Josh Nelson are joined by New York jazz heavy-hitters Chris Potter, Matt Moreno, Scott Colley and Antonio Sánchez, along with percussionist Rogério Boccato and guitarist Romero Lubambo (both from Brazil) and French guitarist Stéphane Wrembel.
Tucker’s versatility is remarkable not only for her ability to sing in a half-dozen different languages but to weave entrancing and expressive stories in each of them. Regardless of whether the listener understands English, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and Japanese, the emotion of every word is crystal clear thanks to Tucker’s lucent articulation and supple, silken phrasing.
“I’m fascinated with foreign cultures and languages, foreign communities and foreign ways of thinking,” Tucker says, the yen to move and explore obvious into her voice. “WANDERlust is all about the longing to experience things outside your own backyard. Music can open you up to a culture in an authentic way; it’s usually the thing that connects me with people.”
Growing up in the border city of San Diego, Tucker was exposed to intermingling cultures from an early age. While still in kindergarten, a Spanish-language childrens book suddenly brought to light the fact that people in different places spoke different languages, and the desire to explore those far-off places was ignited within her. “It was an epiphany for a five year-old child that there was another world out there that was very different than mine and had all these different ways to communicate,” she recalls.
That same year she began taking Spanish lessons, a study she continued through her college years in Indiana, while at the same time that she was touring the Midwest with a new wave cover band. Tucker majored in linguistics with a minor in music, maintaining both passions. She began traveling after graduation, visiting Jamaica, Australia and New Zealand and living for a time in both Japan and Spain. “I got bitten by the travel bug and wanted to see as much of the world as I could,” she says. “I decided to bring into my repertoire all of the music that I’d learned on my travels and start exploring other cultures of music, and I’ve been building on it since.”
Having sung a wide spectrum of styles, from a cappella Elizabethan madrigals to punk rock to country to commercial jingles, Tucker found the most natural fit to be jazz. The genre’s freedom of expression and intellectual tilt were both appealing, as was its openness to absorb styles and accents from throughout the vocalists travels. The songs on WANDERlust are musical postcards from distant points of interest, from Rome to Paris to Takeda, Japan–and even destinations that exist purely in the mind’s eye.
The album kicks off with Tucker’s sprightly, samba-tinged take on “When in Rome (I Do As the Romans Do),” Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s wry celebration of taking a vacation from strict fidelity. The passion goes from casual to heated on Astor Piazzolla’s “Vuelvo Al Sur,” a sultry tango about returning home to a native land and a distant lover.
Longing can be a state of mind as well as a state of being, a feeling captured by Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years,” originally penned for the soundtrack of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. The same notion is expressed by “Pure Imagination,” an ode to the places we dream about from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s score for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Lubambo and Boccato provide the properly breezy Brazilian atmosphere for Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classic “Águas de Março,” a song from one of the few places remaining on Tucker’s bucket list of dream destinations. Ennio Morricone’s title song from Cinema Paradiso follows, its sweeping Italian romanticism leading into the wistful French chanson “Sous le ciel de Paris,” best known from Edith Piaf’s rendition.
“Mediterráneo,” by the influential Spanish singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat, marks our departure from European shores, leading to Tucker’s mesmerizing version of the traditional Japanese “Takeda Lullaby.” The album’s theme is expressed via the otherworldly melodies of Björk’s “Wanderlust.” Tucker leaves off with the optimistic promise of journeys to come with Pat Metheny’s “Better Days Ahead,” highlighted by lively solos from Potter and Moreno and a thrilling dance pairing Boccato and Tucker.
Tucker’s vocal and geographic range has already taken her to unimaginable places, from touring Japan, Europe, Mexico, and the US, to singing French jazz on the soundtrack to the WWII-set video game “The Saboteur.” WANDERlust is a rich and gorgeous souvenir of a life’s travels and experiences.