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Sara Gazarek takes a good long look in the mirror with "Vanity"

Lauren Desberg

Sara Gazarek has never seemed the type to bask in self-regard. Why, then, choose Vanity as the title of her new EP? The answer lies in the lyrics to its title track, which turn the word on its side.

"They call it vanity," Gazarek sings, "because I'd rather be / All by myself instead of laughing with the crowd." Against a slow crescendo in ballad tempo, she brings an aching clarity to the song and its suggestion of a lovelorn soul misunderstood.

Sara Gazarek, "Vanity"

Arranged and orchestrated by trombonist Alan Ferber, "Vanity" — premiering here, before its release tomorrow — also features Miro Sprague on piano, Brad Allen Williams on guitar, Alex Boneham on bass, and Christian Euman on drums. The plunger-muted trumpet on the track is played by Michael Stever, who joins a horn section with Ferber, alto saxophonist Lenard Simpson, tenor saxophonist Daniel Rotem, and baritone saxophonist Adam Schroeder. The ensemble shifts from a simmer to a boil on the back end of the track, which Gazarek brings to an emotional climax.

Vanity — a four-song EP, releasing on Oct. 21 — is the first release under Gazarek's name since her 2019 album Thirsty Ghost. In the interim, she has focused much of her creative energies on säje, a vocal foursome with Amanda Taylor, Johnaye Kendrick and Erin Bentlage. (Their full-length debut is coming soon.)

True to form, Gazarek looks to a range of sources for material on Vanity, performing a song from The Sound of Music ("Something Good"), a song by Fiona Apple ("Extraordinary Machine") and a song of her own making ("We Have Not Long to Love," set to a Tennessee Williams poem). "Vanity" comes from the standard songbook, though it's hardly standard issue; there are few notable recordings apart from the version on Sarah Vaughan's landmark After Hours.

For Gazarek, the substance of "Vanity" speaks to some personal evolution. "I've wanted to a put a song to the shift that I've experienced over the last ten years," she says in a press statement, "the space I've finally stepped into, and the need to document that in a way that showcases the unexpected and the unconventional."

Vanity will be released on Oct. 21. Gazarek is scheduled to perform as part of Temple University's Jazz at the Underground series on March 15, with pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Byron Landham.

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.