Monday, December 16, 2002


Thanks to Len Mullenger for pointing out (of course) the model, detailed review of Nicholas Maw’s opera, ‘Sophie’s Choice’, by Marc Bridle. This features on the ever-excellent MusicWeb site. A must-visit place on the web. Bridle explores the music, libretto, staging and overall trajectory in considerable detail. His thoughtful, critical response is light years away from the cheap shots that have been fired in some sections of the media, and overall he is supportive of Maw’s and the ROH’s venture. Noting that, so far, the work is a ‘hit’, Bridle observes:

“Simon Rattle’s conducting is both urgent and spellbinding, and he produces ravishing sounds from the strings, notably the burnished-sounding ‘cellos and deeply sonorous basses. Indeed, the playing is largely magnificent. There are moments of pathos and of anger in the orchestral writing, but Maw is masterly at being able to make every sung or spoken word clearly audible above the orchestra. Most of the vocal writing is for single voice, or in dialogue, with only one or two pieces for duet or quartet (excluding the choral Auschwitz scenes where the singing is mostly monosyllabic.”



Label: Sony Jazz 5094752
Released: 7 October 2002

One of the pleasant surprises in recent years has been the growing popularity of really top class jazz singers like Claire Martin, Diana Krall and Sarah Jane Morris. At a time when song is being blandly soul-ified and corporately schmaltzed, it is encouraging that potentially market-oriented performers are doing justice to the roots of their art and introducing the standards to new generations. The most high profile artists include sonorous new commercial talents like Norah Jones. Much more outré, and therefore of lower visibility, are the likes of Norma Winstone and Christine Tobin, who can move song form well into the left-field. (I hope to feature Tobin in the near future. She is quite extraordinary in her audaciousness and genre-defying iconoclasm.)

Among those in the ‘in between’ category I recently came across Jane Monheit, whose new album ‘In the Sun’ features traditions of different kinds - Leonard Bernstein's ‘Some Other Time’ (from ‘On the Town’), Ellington’s ‘Just Squeeze Me’, ‘Haunted Heart’ (not quite strong enough) and a wonderfully inventive, lightly bopping re-working of Irving Berlin’s ‘Cheek to Cheek’. Monheit’s clear, high, pure voice is also well suited to the Brazilian stylings of by Brazilian Ivan Lins. She came second in the 1998 Thelonius Monk Vocal Prize aged just 20. There is evidently much more to come.

The strings on the album are arranged by Alan Broadbent. Other stellar instrumentalists featured on a (little too smooth) production are bassist Ron Carter, trumpeter Tom Harrell, drummer Kenny Washington and tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm.

For me absolute the highlight was the surprise of Bill Evans’ and Eugene Lees’ ‘Turn Out The Stars’. That Evans magic works every time.

Apparently Monheit’s 2001 and 2000 CDs, ‘Come Dream With Me’ and ‘Never Never Land’ emphasise her capabilities as a popular chantreuse and are a little more up-beat. Those with purer jazz ballad inclinations like me may therefore prefer the quieter, more thoughtful strains of ‘In the Sun’. But it would be worth checking out all three.



Meanwhile singer Maggy Burrowes, who teaches voice through the Feldenkrais Method of learning by awareness, is developing a following throughout clubs in London and the Southeast of England, including spots at well-known venues like Ronnie Scott’s. I heard a fifteen minute demo CD earlier today and was most impressed.

Burrowes has an extraordinarily expressive voice – tender, rich, emotionally persuasive and intense. Her versions of ‘Round Midnight’ and ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ are enormously inventive and unselfconsciously melancholic. ‘Black Coffee’ and ‘No Moon At All’ also capture that smoky-but-clear 2 AM feeling. Only the more up-tempo and popularly diatonic ‘Under the Ivy’ (with Andy Smith on piano and keys) didn’t quite work for me.

Once again the quality of the sidespersons is crucial. Burrowes goes for an uncluttered and coolly cultured jazz sound. Phil Scraggs’ gently slapping bass is a joy. James Woodrow’s Epiphone (?) guitar is bell-like but somehow moody. Simon Robinson lends more piano on ‘Blackbird’ and Stephen Wrigley adds guitar on ‘No Moon’.

I have no direct source for Burrowes CDs or tapes at the moment, but I will let you know when I do. Meanwhile those in the London area are advised to scour their jazz listings for performances by Maggy and her accomplices. Thanks to Pam and Steve Chapman for pointing me in the direction of her work.

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