Friday, August 27, 2010

The Intimate Voice

When I Was Long Ago - Rebecca Martin (Sunnyside) - Rebecca Martin is a vocalist who is not best served by singing with a large ensemble.  Throughout her solo career, she has created CDs with small ensembles that frame her sweet and sometimes raspy voice with restrained acompaniment (the one time I saw Ms. Martin onstage, her partner was guitarist Ben Monder.)  Therefore, one can tell lyrics are very important and, on her recordings, the voice is quite present.

Her 2nd effort for Sunnyside features saxophonist Bill McHenry (tenor, alto, and soprano) and her husband Larry Grenadier (bass).  Judging by the promotional video, the trio stood in a circle inside the Clubhouse studio in Rhinebeck, NY, with no sound baffles, interacting with care and a quiet demeanor.  With the exception of a short track on which Ms. Martin attempts to coax her song Charlie to sing, the tunes are all standards. Ms. Martin supplies the lyrics to the Ellington/ Strayhorn composition "Low Key Lightly" from the soundtracks of "Anatomy of a Murder", making it into "Lucky In Love." She rides atop the supple walking bass line while McHenry trills and plays long notes in the background. There are many really lovely tracks, including the opening "For All We Know" -  it commences with McHenry and Grenadier creating a musical prologue before the vocalist takes up the short first verse.  Her vocal is devoid of effects, right in the listener's ear as if she was singing just for one.  McHenry's tenor work in the background is quiet, spare and ruminative.  They do not rush, caressing the words and the handsome melody.

That's the blueprint for this ensemble, keep it simple; yet there is nothing plain about these performances.  It's obvious the trio loves these tunes and feels comfortable making them their own. No fuss, no fooling, no long complicated solos, just pleasing melodies and smart playing.  And, it's not all ballads.  Ms. Martin and her husband put a pleasing spin on "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams" and put a bluesy charge into "Willow Weep For Me"  (there's a "cool" soprano solo in the middle.) 

Rebecca Martin makes music that is personal and draws the listener in.  After the music fades, one is left wanting to once more dive into such refreshing air.  For more information, go to www.rebeccamartin.com.


La Voz De Tres - Bernal/Eckroth/Ennis (Jola Sete Productions) - When reviewing Tessa Souter's "Obsession", I was quite taken by the guitar work of Jason Ennis. Throughout the varied program, his work was surprising, lyrical yet rhythmic, strong but not overpowering. For this project, he's working with the fine young vocalist Natalia Bernal, who's just as comfortable (and impressive) singing Peruvian folk songs as she is interpreting Antonio Carlos Jobim. Also onboard is pianist Mike Eckroth, an accomplished player with roots in Latin music.

For the trio's debut recording, they perform Brazilian standards from Jobim and Baden Powell, an Andean folk tune, a work from Cuban composer Julio Gutirrez, the jazz standard "Tenderly", and 4 Bernal originals.  The musicianship is impeccable and Ms. Bernal's voice is a revelation.  She possesses a pleasing contralto voice, her pronunciation is faultless and the lyrics are always clear. You may not understand the words (because of the language) but you can't miss the emotion. Among the many highlights is the exciting take on the Powell/Vinicius de Moraes classic "Berimbau." The rhythmic interaction of the acoustic guitar (Ennis plays only 7-string guitar on this CD)  and piano has the right amount of tension and the spare but intelligent overdubbed vocals makes the tune stand out. Bernal's "Cuentane Tu Pena" also displays a rhythmic tension behind a mature melody line that also for impressive dynamic shifts. Jobim's "Fotografia" finds Eckroth switching to electric piano, giving the sweet tune a  "pop" feel - Ennis's acoustic guitar solo is short yet rich with harmonic possibilities.  When the voice rises up behind the electric piano solo, it's such a pretty touch and shows that the trio has worked on making their presentation special.

"La Voz De Tres" ("The Voice of Three") is music that takes time to reel the listener in but, unless you're a cold fish, you can hear that the trio that has crafted this special recording love what they are doing - the joy is palpable. For more information, go to www.bernaleckrothennis.com.

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