The black and white keys on a piano. Heads and tails on a coin. Yin and yang. Just like these opposing halves that create a whole, life would not be complete without both its highs and lows. Multi-award winning contemporary jazz artist Fiona Ross reflects the full emotional spectrum of this thing called life with her highly anticipated new album, Red Flags and High Heels, and its satisfyingly scathing lead single, “You Are Like Poison” — both available now.
With her fifth studio album landing after Ross being named among the 100 Alternative Power Music List for 2020 by shesaid.so, the internationally acclaimed, London-based vocalist, pianist, composer, producer and journalist has garnered experience and expertise to cast a wide net to capture the dark, light and much of what lies between in this personal and very relatable new collection.
“The ‘Red Flags’ represent those things that just don’t sit right with you,” Ross explains. “Although you are not always sure why and you don’t always know what to do about it.” For example, she adds, “The constant analysis. People’s ignorance. Those things you shouldn’t do but do anyway and you have no idea why you did them until after it has all gone wrong.”
Of course, those excruciating lows in life co-exist with and can give way to exhilarating highs, the opposite touchstone, or ‘high heels’, on Ross’s new album. “The ‘High Heels’ represent fun, sex and strength,” she notes. “For many, high heels bring to mind something sexy and playful, while for others they represent power, strength and freedom.”
“You Are Like Poison”, the first single released concurrently with the new album, highlights that duality of life’s highs and lows with Ross’s rapid fire, vocal kiss-off to a painful memory of a bad love playing off of lightning volleys of brass. The seemingly indelible memories of a relationship that went so wrong are ferociously wiped off the table with the empowerment Ross conveys, especially in the soulful, imploring chorus, “Get out of my mind! You are like poison.”
In conjunction with Red Flags and High Heels’ two-sides-of-life theme, rich, powerful brass arrangements and Ross’s expressive piano travel hand in hand throughout the album. “I went to town with brass for this album and fell in love with Dave Boa’s muted trumpet,” recalls Ross. The album also features stellar contributions from saxophonist Loren Hignell, bassist Derek Daley, percussionists Marley Drummond, Warren Woodcraft, Simon Todd, guitarist Gibbi Bettini, backing vocalist, and saxophonist Ashaine White, as well as mastering engineer Nick Watson, with mixing engineered by Warren Woodcraft and Elliot Richardson.
Ross’s other professional pursuit as a journalist and editor also found its way into her new music. “I had also been spending a lot of time researching the history of jazz for my journalism work, and found myself writing a couple of tracks that are inspired by the legacy of jazz, such as ‘More Time’ which is Be Bop inspired,” she says.
Other key tracks include a personal reflection on the good and bad sides of never feeling “Good Enough”, a tribute to Ross’s female role models who’ve grown in grace as they grew older with “When I Get Old” and “The Apple Trees Won’t Grow Anymore”, a deeply moving song inspired by a dream about Ross’s mum, who was a published poet.
“I had this weird dream where there were very grey fields and my Mum kept saying the apple trees won’t grow anymore and there was a weird cheerful melody playing throughout my dream,” Ross remembers. “I didn’t understand it at the time at all. She passed away not long afterwards, during Covid lockdown. In my last album, I wrote a song for my Dad, but for this album, I wrote one not for my Mum but about her and it felt right to reference the apple trees.”
Jazz-packed with major bang for your buck, the 10 studio tracks on Red Flags and High Heels are expanded on with 4 bonus, live recordings that showcase Ross’s character-filled voice and expressive piano alongside her band’s whipcrack tight accompaniment.
“I recorded a few live sessions during the lockdown period but only released them as videos, so I wanted to include them on my new album,” Ross explains, adding, “It’s nice to share some new arrangements of some of my early songs, which I always perform live and always go down well with the crowd!”
Those videos Ross refers to come from The Live Sessions video album she released in September 2020, which highlighted some of her favourite tracks from her four previous studio albums Fierce and Non-Compliant, Black, White and a Little Bit of Grey, Just Me (and sometimes someone else), and A Twist of Blue.
Ross is also a champion for women in the music industry, founding the ground breaking organisation, Women in Jazz Media, which develops and supports initiatives for mentoring and promoting women in jazz music around the world. To that end, Ross has asked women who have inspired her to write her album sleeve notes.
“My last album featured sleeve notes with the legend that is Maxine Gordon – she is a role model and a mentor to me,” notes Ross. “When I was thinking about this album, I thought it would be really incredible to have strong, fierce, and inspirational women who have inspired me, write the sleeve notes for each of my albums from now onwards, with Maxine leading the way. Celine Peterson instantly came to mind and I am absolutely thrilled that she agreed.”
“Being able to connect with a singer and songwriter who can find the strength to share such deeply personal words with us in such a way that makes us feel safe, is rare,” Peterson pens in the accompanying notes. “Red Flags and High Heels is a time capsule in musical creation.”
Red Flags and High Heels is landing in the wake of a plethora of honours for Ross’s previous album Fierce and Non-Compliant. These include Best Jazz Song from the World Songwriting Awards for her song ‘For My Dad’, Outstanding achievement awarded by the Global Music Awards and most recently International female songwriter of the year from the International Singer Songwriters Association.
Additionally, Ross has been featured in a number of publications including Tinnitist, Jazziz, Record World Magazine, Jazz Corner, Ink 19 and Jazz Quarterly and was thrilled to be in the top ten of most played videos recently in Tinnitist. Ross’s song ‘Mistress’ which was recorded live in a stairwell, was selected to be included in the British Library archives for prosperity.
Now, with Red Flags and High Heels, Fiona Ross has opened the door to a deeper dimension of herself and her artistry. As Jazz in Europe says, “To honestly know Fiona Ross is simply, listen to her latest new album ‘Red Flags & High Heels’.”
Red Flags and High Heels, and the lead single “You Are Like Poison,” are both available now.
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