Over the last decade, as Alyssa Graham traveled through Brazil, India, China and Europe, she saw dozens of local performances and soaked in different musical cultures. The singer's adventurous spirit also helps explain why she decided to leave Blindman's Holiday, a successful rock group on the college circuit, after six years to explore something she knew very little about: jazz.
"I woke up and said, 'There's so much more I want to learn,' " says Graham, who ended up studying jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music. "It was difficult going back to basics and into this cutthroat, tight-knit world. But I wanted to be a better musician . . . immersing myself in this world was definitely worthwhile."
Graham's second album, "Echo," debuted at No. 24 on Billboard's Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart in August. The startlingly mature set of sumptuous jazz/pop covers and originals was influenced by Brazilian rhythms and vocal patterns that Graham says "don't give away too much."
While her graceful voice guides the album, much of "Echo" centers on the backing band and arrangements, produced, arranged and co-written by Jon Cowherd (Lizz Wright, Brian Blade Fellowship). Graham didn't mind taking a back seat to the studio talent, who have also recorded for acts like Cassandra Wilson, John Patitucci and the Emerson String Quartet.
Graham will play a handful of U.S. shows this spring, including an April 27 performance at New York's Lincoln Center, before beginning work on a new album with the same group that helped make "Echo" a success.