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CD Feature/ Irene: "A Song for You"; Sophie Duner: "The City of My Dreams" & "The Rain in Spain"; Ruby Ruby Ruby: "The Shadow of Your Smile"

img  Tobias

Jazz is a tainted term, ill with prejudice and cliche. But even its creative pains pale in comparison to the „genre“ of Female Vocal Jazz. Artists like Norah Jones and Katie Melua are just the tip of the iceberg for a category held together by the flimsiest of definitoric parameters. Today, „the female vocalist“ can be influenced by anything from Pop to Classical Music, perform both at sizable concert halls and intimate theatres and build a fan base consisting of hip youngsters and experienced aficionados alike. Their diet, too, no longer exclusively consists of „Standards“. Instead, a whole world of original material and works from adjacent genres is waiting to be imported, assimilated and digested. The territory of creative competition has shifted. Instead of battling it out over the most heartfelt and plaintive interpretation of a popular piece, creating cohesive concepts of sound, instrumentation, repertoire, visual presentation and cross-medial links is increasingly turning into the main artistic task.

Seen from this perspective, „A Song for You“ is all but an anachronism. Supported by an exquisitely pussyfooting band, multilingual and classically trained Irene Nachreiner follows in the footsteps of her „Summer Samba“ debut, dishes up a program of classic Latin tunes (including Cole Porter's „It's too darn hot“, Jobim's „Triste“ and Joao Gilberto's „Bim Bom“) and takes her audience back to the Karaoke Bar at Bora Bora where she was discovered in a fairy-tale like entry to the biz. The dreamy swing of her musical partners creates a kind of lush Bossa-vibe nestling comfortably in between 60s French arthouse cinema and the unreal vibe of a cocktail party hosted by David Lynch on Mullholland Drive. Irene, meanwhile, excels in a cool eroticism that would make the captain of a cruise ship stop in his tracks and forget all about the steering wheel in the middle of a field of icebergs.

Irony has it that „A Song for You“ sounds most retro in its most contemporary moment, Irene's rendition of Sting's „Fragilidad“, which almost makes you feel confused about which of the two versions the original is exactly. On the remaining tracks, however, the album remains unperturbed by the kind of roots-oriented nostalgia, which may turn some New-Jazz albums into the hottest stuff in town for a few weeks but ultimately renders them dispensable as soon as another trend pops up. This is music that some may discard as „fluffy“ or „sugary“ but which ultimately comes across as honest and direct on closer inspection. Recommended if you like Michael Buble, her distributor says, but mimicking the production and techniques of successful blueprints is exactly what Irene does not want. Her second album is a no-frills effort which is about nothing but songs, voice and subtle craftsmanship - and that makes it a strangely compelling proposition for all those looking for a truly independent alternative to the mainstream canon.

The same, although from a very different musical perspective, can be said about Sophie Duner. Drawing her inspiration from a plethora of creative sources, Duner, who hails from Sweden but considers the world her playing ground, is a stunningly multi-talented one-woman-army of singer, composer, painter and inventive arranger. The latter shines through in the fact that several of the delicately grooving songs of „The Rain in Spain“ reappear in transcriptions for string quartet on follow-up „The City of my Dreams“ without ever sounding like cheap rehashes. Her songwriting is contagious and to-the-point, her feeling for the Jazz-idiom intuitive and her sense of space and breath alert and well-grounded. Thanks to her interest in shaping a fresh approach with each new record rather than dwelling on a personal sound devoid of variations or perspectives for development, she is equally capable of creating sensual slow-dance mantras as well as brusquely avantgardistic vaudeville-style „Lieder“.

It is a combination which has caused a cornucopia of critics to write the most diverse things about her work. Parallels have been drawn with Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles or Bing Crosby (quite bizarre associations) as well as Brecht, Kate Bush or Sting - which all astoundingly make perfect sense. Strangely, no one has touched upon her lyrics, however, which deal with black coffee, males qualified enough to serve as her personal entertainer and learning how to fight. Even though these poems are never short of enigmatic metaphors, Duner generally has a penchant for expressing emotions in the most immediate and intimate way imaginable, which makes you feel both privileged and slightly voyeuristic at the same time. It is almost as though, through these words, Duner were discovering herself and her own oeuvre anew with each interpretation. One is constantly under the impression that she were still searching for their real meaning, for hidden secrets behind the painfully clear vocabulary. Which turns „The Rain in Spain“ and „The City of my Dreams“ into complimentary releases, which should be heard side by side for cross-references and surprising connections.

Cross-references are, superficially at least, also the driving force behind „The Shadow of Your Smile“. A trio comprising Steve Heather, Derek Shirley as well as Singer and Guitarist Margareth Kammerer, their debut album is a moody collection of ten tunes originally awarded iconoclasticism by Billy Holliday. It has apparently taken several years for the album to arrive at its current shape, from Kammerer's original outright refusal to perform these tracks on the suggestion of Zarek Label Founder Ignaz Schick to a concert in Berlin and then, finally, recording sessions spread out over an extended period of time. The result, however, sounds utterly in the moment and out of time rather than timeless, fully justifying Schick's claim that there probably no right or wrong moment to put this out.

Apart from well-dosed guest appearances by, among others, Alex Dörner on Trumpet („You go to my head“) and Tom Meadowcroft, whose meditative Organ tranquilly underpins pieces like „Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise“, the sound of „The Shadow of Your Smile“ is minimal and brittle, a bittersweet brushwood of tenderly stroked cymbals, rhythmic Guitar strummings and dry Bass pulsation. And yet, behind this simple outward facade hides a dark depth, a whispering abyss of unfathomable dimensions which rears its inhumanly deformed head in the select yet intense instances when Kammerer withdraws into her shell and the instruments carry on their sludgy trudge, dragging themselves forwards in search of a glimmer of hope – such as on „Come Rain or Come Shine“, which begins as a sultry love song but dissolves into a nocturnal plainchant in the final minute, unsure about its own future.

The shadow of Billy Holliday has loomed large over female Jazz vocalists for decades, if only because her impenetrable facade and effortless play with conventions habe come to effectively define the genre as such. There have been plenty of heirs to her throne over the years, some of them displaying an astounding timbral likeness and others approaching material in a similar vein of simultaneous semi-detachment and utter involvement. To Margaret Kammerer, however, Holliday's principal achievement lay in her ability to treat each song, nay each line of text, as a new role, which deserved and demanded to be treated as a unique entity. This is exactly what Kammerer is also doing here and that is why this album is neither a tribute nor an homage but a showcase for her talents inspired by a singer who would go her own way at all cost.

Regardless of where your musical preferences may lie, it is a characteristic which unites her with Irene and Duner and which raises hopes that the useless brand of „Female Vocal Jazz“ will soon be replaced with a better one – or ultimately be discarded completely.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Irene
Homepage: Sophie Duner
Homepage: Sophie Duner at MySpace
Homepage: CIMP Records
Homepage: Ruby Ruby Ruby
Homepage: Zarek Records

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