They have been performing professionally for over a decade, but The Ault Sisters can now look back on 2014 as a career breakthrough year. As well as dazzling with concerts at many of Toronto’s most prestigious club venues, the acclaimed vocal trio made their debut on the festival circuit, to enthusiastic response.
The year also saw the release of their first vocal jazz album, the aptly named Timeless. Their most fully-realized album to date, it is a seamless mix of classic tunes from the jazz and pop worlds and new compositions. Timeless perfectly showcased the sublime vocal harmonies of Amanda, Alicia, and Alanna Ault (call them the A Team!). These were placed in a perfect setting by producer Greg Kavanagh and an elite group of Toronto jazz luminaries, one comprising George Koller, Robi Botos, Ben Riley, John Johnson, Ted Quinlan and William Sperandei.
Radio responded very positively to the album. The opening track, a rousing take on “The Boy From New York City,” was released as a single in the U.S., generating widespread airplay on jazz radio there. The song “Back To You” (written by Kavanagh and Chris Smith) was named Song of the Week on CBC Radio.
The Ault Sisters’ 2014 performance schedule began with a January show at Toronto’s Lula Lounge, part of the club’s Friday Night Jazz series (they returned to the venue in June as part of Jazz FM’s One-Stop Vocal Jazz Safari). In March they launched Timeless in fine fashion with a CD release performance at Toronto’s leading jazz club, Jazz Bistro. This was followed by a string of appearances at major regional summer music festivals. The group made many new fans via crowd-pleasing shows at the Jazz On The Mountain At Blue Festival in Collingwood, a mainstage appearance at the famed Beaches International Jazz Festival in Toronto, and at Toronto’s T and T Waterfront Night Market.
“This was our first year of applying to and then playing the jazz festivals,” Amanda explains. “We found we really enjoyed the festival experience. It’s fun to be singing outside while people are eating and listening to you. You can also reach people who may not have been at your club shows, and then you see them back at your next show.”
In October, The Ault Sisters impressed a totally different audience by playing a Kensington Market rock club during Indie Week, and then they wrapped up this banner year in style by playing two major Toronto shows in one day, on Dec. 21. First up was a sold-out matinee holiday concert (and World Vision benefit) at Hugh Room’s, the ninth (!) consecutive year for an Ault Sisters Christmas show at the noted venue. From there, they headed off to the Trinity St. Paul’s Centre for an evening performance as part of the star-studded International Divas III concert, sharing the stage with such acclaimed vocalists as Rita Chiarelli, Maryem Tollar, and Lara Solnicki.
The rare diversity of venues and events at which The Ault Sisters performed with such distinction speaks volumes to the refreshing eclecticism of their repertoire. Both live and on record, they have worked their vocal magic on material ranging from classical and Christmas selections through to jazz, pop, r ‘n b and Latin numbers. They are able to adapt their setlist to suit the venue and audience, ensuring a crowd-pleasing show at every stop. The ace players featured on their albums reprise their roles at Ault Sisters concerts, ensuring musicianship of the highest quality.
Amanda, Alicia and Alanna and longtime collaborator Greg Kavanagh have logged extensive hours in the recording studio in recent years, but the sisters stress that live performance is still their favourite setting.
“There is so much energy live,” Alicia says. “You have the audience and the band there and you are all doing it together, whereas in the studio the band will record and then we’ll go do our thing.” Alanna agrees, noting that “the beauty of performance is that it is different every time.”
They also stress that the studio experience is making them better performers. “In the studio now we are all recording at the same time, in the one room on different microphones,” explains Amanda. “That way, we can play off each other and follow each other’s lead. It feels very organic. Recording that way you have to be so together, and that now translates to our live show too.”
The Ault Sisters are now tackling a new artistic role, that of songwriting. For a new album they are currently recording with Kavanagh they have begun writing together for the very first time. “It’ll be cool to have some songs that are really our own,” says Alanna. “I feel it’s easier to connect with a song that literally comes from you.”
Amanda recalls that “the first one was a song called ‘Dreamin’. We co-wrote it with Greg and Chris Smith. They would start it by playing some chords then send it to us and we’d come up with lyrics and a melody line.” Alanna acknowledges that “it can be a tricky process with three such very different people. The good thing is that we’re all sisters, so even if we argue a little over a lyric, we can’t stay mad at each other.”
The trio are in fact now relishing the challenge of composition, and at least three of their original songs are expected to be on the new record. Look for the album to again cover both jazz and pop terrain, with an r ‘n b feel to some tunes. “On ‘Dreamin’, Debbie Fleming [a frequent collaborator] has written a three-part vocal arrangement for us, so it will have those jazz harmonies alongside an r ‘n b feel,” explains Alicia. Other tunes slated for inclusion include fresh interpretations of the much-loved Songbook standard “Stardust” and McGuire Sisters favourite “Sincerely,” plus a bonus track in the form of recently-released holiday single “May You Always.”
On disc and in performance, different sisters take the lead on different tracks, adding to the vocal variety, while their intricately interwoven harmonies are another signature.
These three charming young women have now developed very distinct individual personalities, but the collective musical identity of The Ault Sisters remains a highly unified and coherent one. Look for that personality to be expressed with great distinction on record and in performance in the years ahead.