You can hear the Wilson influence in Hanka’s warm and oh-so-soulful vocals. In fact, she is the guest lead singer at Harlem’s Memorial Baptist Church. How’s that for soulful?
Hanka has previously released three albums in Europe, including Reflections of My Soul (2007), Essence (2014), and Twin Flame (2017). Essence and Twin Flame were both nominated for Best Jazz Album of the Year in Slovakia.
She says of herself, “Since moving to New York four years ago and performing at the jazz and gospel scene, I learned so much about the origins, history, and diversity of cultures forming music genres that I love - jazz, gospel, and soul music. That's why I dreamt to bring together the best American musicians to arrange and record traditional Slovak folk songs together with jazz, gospel, and r&b classics for my first international album. I believe that regardless of our cultural background, we all as a human race dream about love, happiness, and peace, and these dreams will be celebrated in my new record called Universal Ancestry.”
She has achieved exactly that. With her are brilliant and extraordinary musicians: pianists Shedrick Mitchell (organ, piano), James Hurt (piano, Fender Rhodes), Rodney Kendrick (piano), bassists David Ginyard (electric bass), Rashaan Carter (electric and double bass), drummers Taru Alexander and Nathaniel Townsley, plus guitarists Marvin Sewell and Sherrod Barnes, Antoine Roney (tenor and soprano saxes), background vocalists Keesha Gumbs and Terelle Tipton, and Slovakian artists Sisa Michalidesova (flute) and Veronika Vitazkova (fujara).
Her familiarity and love of American Jazz and R&B was infused with Gospel and peppered with Slovak Folk music to create an album of unmitigated beauty and spirituality. I was already hooked on Hanka but then I got to Donny Hathaway’s Someday We’ll All Be Free and I became a fan. Add to that Whitney Houston’s famous All the Man That I Need and Through the Fire, one of Chaka Khan’s go-to songs and this becomes a must-have album.
But then she doubles down with great versions of McCoy Tyner’s In Search of My Heart, Pharoah Sanders’ As You Are, and Abbey Lincoln ’s Throw It Away. And then there is her version of the 1930 Them There Eyes by Maceo Pinkard, Doris Tauber, and William Tracey.
The quest for love and for freedom is palpable in Hanka’s singing and choice of tunes. Her spirituality is evident with Walter Hawkins’ Be Grateful.
Her Slovak heritage is brought to bear with three Slovak Folk songs. Dance Dance is a popular Slovak children’s folk song but is rendered with a sultry, R&B sense. I’m Such a Pretty Girl is an up-tempo, fun tune and The Bird Has Started Singing is a rather melancholy song featuring the fujara, the Slovakian flute. The instrument itself is quite remarkable but, coupled with Hanka’s Slovakian dialect, it gives the tune real pathos.
Universal Ancestry is Hanka G’s declaration and description of the human condition. Her vocals give wing to her aims and emotions and, if you listen carefully, she will take you on the trip with her.
~Travis Rogers, Jr. is The Jazz Owl