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(Charleston Square 420 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 2/15/2012)
The best musicians, being creative people, like often like to try new things and situations, such as collaborating with different people, and fans often are attracted to such efforts. Sometimes such collaborations seem to be marketing efforts -- combine two or more commercially successful individual stars and sell records to the fans of each of them, regardless of the artistic merits. But collaborations that grow spontaneously from the efforts of the artists, irrespective of any marketing angle, usually turn out to be a lot more interesting. While sometimes they can be artistic embarrassments, sometimes the collaboration goes so well that it turns into a new band, and sometimes a one-off project turns out to be a pleasant surprise.
This week we have one that results in some excellent music, and also has an interesting story behind the disparate artists who came together. It's a new recording by a German jazz group with an American jazz vocalist and lyricist, and the result is a wonderfully appealing singer-songwriter recording. It's by Triosence with Sara Gazarek, and the CD is called Where Time Stands Still.
Triosence is a German jazz threesome who formed in 1999 and have developed something of a following in Germany and other parts of Europe. Their name, short for "trio essence" is to reflect their joint collaborative effort, rather than being so much a group with a leader. Triosence was formed by pianist and composer Bernhard Schüler, with Ingo Senst on bass and Stephen Emig on drums. They were originally into more complex, modern jazz, but principal composer Schüler has been gradually moving toward a more melodic sound. One of Schüler's teachers at the Music Conservatory of Cologne, guitarist Frank Haunschild, brought to Schüler's attention a recording by Seattle-born, Los Angeles-based vocalist Sara Gazarek, after Schüler said he was looking for a singer to perform on some vocal tunes he had written. After deciding she what he was looking for, Schüler contacted Gazarek, who has her own group and has released at least two jazz albums on her own. Starting in 2008 and over the course of two years Schüler and Gazarek communicated and collaborated mainly over the Internet. Though Schüler had written lyrics in English, he wanted the input of a native speaker and in the end, Ms. Gazarek did a fair amount of writing, often taking the songs in somewhat different directions than Schüler had originally envisioned them.
In early 2009, Schüler came to the US to make music with Ms. Gazarek in person for the first time, and the two quickly hit it off. Later that year, the trio plus a guitarist traveled to California and played a few gigs. Finally, in September 2009, Ms. Gazarek went to Germany for the recording of the CD.
Where Time Stands Still was released in Germany in 2010, and just now is being issued in the US. The result is a fine recording that obviously has a lot of jazz influence -- and indeed it is being marketed as a jazz release -- but for me is more a kind of multi-genre singer-songwriter recording. The occasional acoustic guitars can give it a folky quality at times, and the all-original material, with lyrics more like a folky would write, is not what one would expect on a straight jazz vocal album. The music is breezy, with Ms. Gazarek's easy-going, light voice more in common with the better female singer-songwriters on the scene. There are some jazzy instrumental solos in the course of the songs, but the focus remains on the pleasing vocals. In addition to Triosence. there are two guitarists who appear at various times, Frank Haunschild, Schüler's former teacher, and Vitaly Zolotov.
The CD opens with I Can't Explain, with love-at-first-sight lyrics. The eclecticism of the influences is shown right off by the reggae-influenced beat. It's a nice combination. <<>>
A bit jazzier is Summer Song. Ms. Gazarek's pastoral lyrics are given a very nice, breezy Latin-influenced musical setting. <<>>
Also with a seasonal theme is You're My Spring, which does sound a lot more like a jazz ballad in a flowing waltz time. <<>>
With a more contemplative sound is a piece called Like the Wind, with somewhat metaphysical or spiritual lyrics. Ms. Gazarek really shines on this kind of style. <<>>
A nice blend of the folky textures and lyrical style, with the jazz harmonic approach comes on a song called Only Friends. <<>>
A composition called You Alone sounds like a song that could have come from a good theatrical musical. The pretty waltz is a straight-out love song that might seem at home on the stage. <<>>
The CD's longest and most elaborate piece is You'll See You, with lyrics about seeing from a different perspective. <<>> The track is one of the few on the CD that lets the trio stretch out and play some jazz. <<>>
The album ends with its title piece Where Time Stands Still, a lullaby with just piano and violin accompaniment. Again, Ms. Gazarek's vocals are really outstanding in her understated approach. <<>>
Where Time Stands Still the newly-released 2010 recording by the German group Triosence with American vocalist Sara Gazarek is a wonderfully successful collaboration by first-rate musicians from separate continents drawn together simply by the music. Triosence's pianist Bernhard Schüler came up with the music and some of the words, and Ms. Gazarek collaborated with or wrote the lyrics. Both words and music are very high in quality. Ms. Gazarek is a great choice for this collaboration, with her subtle, breezy style an excellent match for the flowing, melodic music that Schüler created, and the playing by all is first rate.
Our grade for audio quality is "A-minus." The instrumentation is well-recorded, and Ms. Gazarek's vocals are generally well captured, conveying the pleasing qualities of her voice, but once in a while, there's a bit of momentary so-called clipping distortion on her vocals. And as is so often the case, the recording was inappropriately compressed to crank up the loudness.
There have been some other recent recordings by female jazz vocalists who have essentially done singer-songwriter style records, such as Patricia Barber, Erin Bode, Cassandra Wilson, and Lisa Lauren. But Where Time Stands Still is a unique intercontinental collaboration and one of the most appealing.
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