Posts Tagged ‘Ellen Kirkwood’

On Saturday, 5th August I checked out the Sirens Big Band performance of Ellen Kirkwood’s new suite [A]part. The show I heard (and saw) was the second of the evening in the intriguingly named Io Myers Theatre at UNSW. Io was, in Greek Mythology, the daughter of Zeus and is, in astronomy, the innermost Galilean moon of Jupiter.

It was fitting, as Kirkwood has previously drawn on Greek mythology in her Theseus and the Minotaur suite and also because [A]part took my head, at times, into the outer galaxy and beyond.

[A]part_Ellen Kirkwood 1 _Catherine McElhone-4

pic: Catherine McElhone

The themes of this multi-part, hour-long suite are however quite down to Earth. Composer Kirkwood takes on the big issues of this strange and cruel age: climate change, the refugee crisis and the myth of connectedness that is the broken promise of the internet. The title is a pictogram of the feeling of being at once connected and yet separate – a truly modern condition.

Whereas Theseus and the Minotaur combined music with spoken narration, [A]part works with visuals – Cleo Mees’ intriguing video projections: sometimes mysterious, sometimes sardonic and humourous, always startling, as is the music.

The ecological theme opens the piece with guest artist Gian Slater setting up, via loop-pedal, vocal drones onto which she adds layers of swishes, chattering and mouth percussion. By the time the horns enter with a fugue-like figure, you feel as if you are surrounded by nature: wind, animals, insects, rustling grasses.

Pianist Andrea Keller, also a guest of the Sirens, creates a typically unique solo against the rhytm of Alex Masso’s drums and Sirens leader Jess Dunn’s bass. Keller’s work throughout this performance is as imaginative, precise and exciting as one would expect from one of Australia’s finest. In a later unaccompanied solo her raw attack had a few of us sitting up straight in our seats.

The third [A]part guest artist is saxophonist Sandy Evans, a mentor to the Sirens from their beginnings in 2010. She seemed to take great inspiration from Kirkwood’s music on the night – a soprano solo beginning with a scream that was a little too human for comfort; yet later accompanying a faintly demented and disintegrating Balkan waltz with a barrage of kazoos, razzers and squeaking rubber duckies.

[A]part_Ellen Kirkwood2Catherine McElhone-10

pic: Catherine McElhone

And that ­– from anguish to giddy silliness, and everything in between – is the scope of [A]part. It is a massive piece in every way: challenging to the ear and the mind, highly original (as we know Kirkwood to always be), often cerebral and abstract, all the time threatening to be too much to take in in one sitting. But what saves it from possible overwhelm is that Kirkwood never loses the emotional thread in the music; it is human music and it consistently makes you feel. Sometimes, as with all valid contemporary art, those feelings can be baffling or even plain uncomfortable, but you do feel them deeply.

Kirkwood’s writing here, as in everything I have heard from her, is smart (without ever being clever-clever), dynamic and imaginative. The task she has taken on with [A]part tests her formidable skills as a composer/arranger, yet she never seems to run out of ideas, always finding new sound possibilities and textures to be gleaned from the big band.

She uses hand-claps in polyrhythm from the various sections. She has Jess Dunn rattle her bow around on the wood of her bass, making harsh knocking sounds (which she then contrasts with airy flute textures answering the knocking). She has sections play against each other. She has sections slip out of synch within their ranks. She writes starkly dissonant brass sections which unfolds into satiny 40’s dance orchestra textures (albeit a dance orchestra which slowly dissolves and decays).

Yes, [A]part is massive in every way (it took almost a year of writing and rehearsing and the mentorship of stellar pianist Barney McAll to, as Kirkwood says “Get this music out of my brain”). It is ultimately a massive experience – massive in immersion, like rolling in the currents of an ocean, and massive in response: the music, together with the power of the visuals leave you feeling wrung out and a little wired.

I cannot imagine how Ellen Kirkwood will ever top a work such as [A]part. I know of course that, given what we have seen and heard of her up to this point, she undoubtedly will.

 

 

Advertisements

Seventies’ evil genius Frank Vincent Zappa is often cited as an influence by bands who work outside the mainstream, those who work down the alleys and canals and sewers of outré and outrage. Some go for Zappa’s anarchic approach to harmony and rhythm, which sorely test the players’ chops while testing the audience’s aesthetic threshold. Some go for Zappa’s sour (and hilariously barbed) misanthropy, which swings between the right-on and the right-off.

Some, like David Sattout‘s 8-piece jazz/rock/noise collective Facemeat, go for both. And yet, this is not slavish ‘tribute’ or fawning hagiography; Sattout very smartly uses the Zappa musical anarchy/discipline approach as a point of departure, a fertile bed in which his own sound-world can grow.

And grow it does, into flowers of evil and flowers of alien-skinned beauty and flowers of… you tell me, which populate the night garden of Facemeat’s debut album, Questions for Men.

facemeat 1

 

Opener, ‘Compliments to Your Band’ blazes in with electronic vomit, followed by a fuzz orchestral slam, before setting up the sort of demented guitar groove worthy of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. Wise-ass vocal (singer Adam Moses plays every one of Questions for Men’s song’s characters with reptilian relish) over a sarcastic funk line, a Sattout fuzz-Zappa guitar whig out and more horn-fuzz train-wrecks and we are left pummelled (but grinning).

‘My Wife and Children’ see-saws tricksy scalar runs around stabbing horns (Ruth Wells‘ sax and Ellen Kirkwood‘s trumpet seem to pop up on so much good music around Sydney these days). ‘Dude Disco’ is Disco Boy for the new millennium, Moses’ lounge-lizard vocal dripping with enough fear’n’loathing to rust any mirrorball stiff. Bassist Josh Ahearn, drummer Miles Thomas and keys man Byron Mark (yes, Sattout has recruited the best) are all deliciously in on the joke.facemeat 2

‘Your Special Day’ froths with metal guitars and smart time-signature games; title track ‘Questions for Men’ is a beautifully layered misterioso noise-world; ‘Seven Days’ is my-baby-done-me-wrong from the point of view of a twisted mind, the woozy harmony walling us all into a small art-cinema thrilling to this noir movie of necrophilia and revenge.

The startling and unique rarely lets up across Questions for Men. Sattout’s cabinet of curiosities keeps giving up its treasures: some of them are strangely beautiful, some of them you turn over in your hand trying to figure its purpose, while others just slip between your fingers and slither off across the floor to glisten in a dark corner.

‘Hanging From a Line’ levitates a whole-tone vocal line overhead, while ‘In Time’ surprises with a dotty Kate Bush ditty sung by Wells and Kirkwood. ‘I Shouldn’t Have Killed You’ casts Stevie Ray Vaughn‘s silvery Stratocaster as the private dick against the Greek chorus of the drunken horns. ‘Keller’ could be called math-rock, but only if you didn’t have better words (or ears).

Unique and strange beauty abounds. So does sarcasm: Questions for Men‘s closer, ‘Big Noight Blues’ is as viciously satirical of 12-bar blues as you will hear: as mirthless a mastication of an instrumental blues as you can get. And God and Frank knows the modern-day blooz need it.

God and Frank also knows we need music like this – the jazz guys have hijacked the chops but not the fury; the indie guys have hijacked the irony but not the wit; the TV panel comics have hijacked the satire but not the danger.

Facemeat are a refreshing slap in the face for all of the above. Long may they slap.

Published September 2015 on theorangepress.net

Trumpeter and composer, Ellen Kirkwood is a Sydney jazz artist I always look forward to hearing more of.

She first made me prick up my ears with the all-women Sirens Big Band, whose catholic orbit happily included her Balkan/jazz/blues mashups (check her ‘Balkanator’, the opening track on Siren’s LP Kali and the Time of Change). Her first album under her own name (ok, Captain Kirkwood), was a jazz/spoken word retelling of the ancient Greek legend of Theseus and The Minotaur.

She also bobs up with Mister Ott and Serge Stanley’s On The Stoop as well as others around town, including David Sattout’s grisly Zappa-flavoured Facemeat. The binding quality of her music and her collaborations is that is consistently has one foot firmly in jazz and the other trailing in the waters of a tangy broth of blues, rock, gypsy swing, klezmer, reggae and you-name-it.

fat yahoozah 2

Her new release – under the band-name of Fat Yahoozah – titled I Don’t Care, is no exception to her unique catalogue. Maybe a bit more fun, maybe a little more raucous, but as smart and brightly arranged as anything that has come before.

And she adds the arrow of vocalist to her quiver. The title track, ‘I Don’t Care’ has Kirkwood singing a world-weary lyric over a breezy pop song (Lotte Lenya goes to Bondi?). Simon Ferenci’s trombone solo is light and grinning before a lilting horn/voice ensemble riff.

‘Klezmore’ (get it?) is a drunken wedding waltz with a dark lyric of childhood foreboding. Even though I am reviewing this album in dry July, I look forward to listening to this tune (hopefully live) after maybe one too many shiraz cabs. Once again, beautifully balanced and heartfelt horn arrangements paint the picture.

‘Translation Day’ has Ruth Wells’ soprano intro-ing with some Eastern European blues before the ensemble clips along on a lovely village polka; Jessica Dunn’s bowed bass singing like Grandpapa. The tune accelerates and accelerates until all the winter leaves are blown off the trees. This tune made me realize how vivid the sound pictures are on the album; how much Soul it has.fat yahoozah 1

The band Kirkwood has assembled helps paint the pictures beautifully. She has smartly drawn the players from her previous and current collaborations – Wells from the Sirens and Facement, David Sattout on guitar, Serge Stanley on sax and accordian, Ferenci, The Sirens’ Dunn on bass with Evan McGregor on drums and percussives.

I know the band has been knocking everyone out playing live around town – it’s a killer one-two punch: jazz chops with gypsy party moods that anyone can love. It’s awfully good to drink to, but even better to listen to. I recommend you do.

 

Published July 2015 on australianjazz.net

 

Composer and trumpeter Ellen Kirkwood is known for her inventive and genre-busting arrangements for Sydney’s Sirens Big Band – check out her ‘Balkanator’, the opener of the Siren’s recent debut album, Kali and The Time of Change. (The band also rocks her arrangement of Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’ in performance.)

Kirkwood’s small group – the whimsically named Captain Kirkwood – is a whole other trip from the Sirens. But the much reduced format doesn’t reduce Kirkwood’s smart ideas and great sense of tonal colour one iota.

Nick photo 1

In fact, on the band’s debut, Theseus and the Minotaur, Kirkwood has taken on a hell of an idea: the Greek legend of Theseus and his battle to the death with King Minos’ monstrous cannibal creature, the Minotaur. The band tell the story over five linked pieces, with narration by Ketan Joshi.

It could easily be a train wreck – very few of these jazz-prose things really fit right – but on this one it all works beautifully. The balance between the music and Joshi’s measured narration never tips, the music following and enhancing the narrative path, now and again moving to the forefront to feature the ensemble or some brilliant and considered soloing.

Multi-instrumentalist Paul Cutlan stands out, playing bass clarinet, tenor and Eb clarinet across the tracks. His howling, gnashing bass clarinet evocation of the Minotaur’s roars reminds us why Cutlan is one of our most respected musicians: he somehow manages to, among the terrifying animal sounds, suggest the anguish that the poor creature suffers, being not man and yet not beast.

The Minotaur’s lonely pain is also touched on in the sharply written text adaptation (by Kirkwood together with Oliver Downes), widening the psychological scope of the good-vs-evil aspect of the legend.kirkwood1

Kirkwood’s band writing is subtle and deceptively tricky – all to convey the moods and settings of the story. Her band – the traditional jazz two-horns-plus-rhythm combo – is up to anything she throws at them. There are some truly exceptional moments: the dread conveyed when Theseus enters the Minotaurs labyrinth using just Tom Botting’s scraped bowed bass and drummer Alon Ilsar’s ominous toms; the ragged, angular dance that suggests Theseus and the beast circling each other before their final battle; the use of kalimba suggesting sparkling sea.

As well as the five-track legend suite, the band also works through three tasty Kirkwood originals with Cutlan playing Eric Dolphy to the leader’s Miles-inspired trumpet (her tone on the ballad ‘Dharamsala’ is particularly luminous). Pianist Glenn Doig through the suite and the three band pieces once again proves he is one to watch.

__________________________________

Prior to publishing this review, I asked Ellen Kirkwood a handful of questions. Here are her responses.

1. The most obvious first – why did you pick the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur for your debut release?

This decision was mostly about practicality and a setting that I thought I could write well for. As for exactly why I wanted to write a “music story” in the first place – that’ll become clear when I answer your other questions later.

Basically after I’d decided to write a music story, I then had to find a story that would suit. I looked at a lot of short stories, and asked friends to recommend some. Some people suggested I do a musical setting for poetry, but I mostly found that too abstract for what I wanted. I wanted it to be a story, and my narrator to be a storyteller. Short stories that I read, or that people suggested to me, had a lot of dialogue, or plots that branched out in a few different directions. Looking at these texts helped me tease out what I DIDN’T want, and let me to decide that what I needed was something with a fairly simple and straightforward plot, but with an interesting setting and strong characters that I could express through the music I’d write. I didn’t want a story that was too detailed or complex because I wanted the music to be the focus, and also because I didn’t want to make what was already going to be a big challenge even more difficult.

When I started looking at myths and legends I seemed to be getting closer to the mark. I had studied Ancient History for my HSC so was already familiar with Theseus and the Minotaur. The thing that most appealed to me about the story of Theseus was the fantastical setting, particularly the labyrinth. I pretty quickly got excited about the possibilities of writing and improvising music to describe the labyrinth and Theseus’ journey through it. The other good thing about this story is there are so many versions of it out there, so I knew I could tweak it to make it work for me.

kirkwood22. What was it about writing a themed cycle of pieces that appealed to you, rather than a selection of unconnected tunes?

I really love composing. When I got the news that I had been nominated for the Jann Rutherford Memorial Award, and that I had to submit a recording and a proposal, after the initial freak out (“I don’t have a band! All the stuff I’ve written lately has been for big band and Sirens is too big to use for the award!” “I have a month to get a group together and record… what?”) I decided that, if I won the award, I wanted to do something extra challenging to make the most of it. I knew I had the ability to write enough original tunes to record an album with my own band, but I wanted to do something different with the opportunity. I guess I also wanted to do something to set me apart from the other shortlisted people (I still have no idea who they were, top secret!) too. And to be (extra) honest, maybe there was also an element of self-doubt there – lots of people out there writing and recording albums full of standalone tracks of their amazing original music – would a similar thing of my own stand out amongst those? Probably not, I thought. Do something a bit different!

And then I won the award! Clearly they liked my idea!

3. Was it more difficult to write like this – the symphonic challenge of individual pieces that work in a larger framework?

Yeah, it was pretty difficult, altogether. I didn’t find it too hard to come up with the raw material to begin with, but it was actually piecing the finer details together to fit with the story which was the hardest. The biggest mistake I made was not getting the text to be exactly what I wanted before I wrote the music. Instead, I basically wrote a summary of the story, which I then wrote the music to, thinking of it more as a general setting for the story, rather than music that followed the narrative closely. The more I wrote, though, the more tied in to specific events in the story it became. So then when I got Oli to help me fine-tune the text itself, I found that all the editing we did to make it better, including some changes in the sequence of events and the shortening of some sections, would mean I had to edit the music more than I had expected. This caused me to then have to re-think some parts of the music to see if I could fit things into different places, and reconsider if the mood of what I had still suited the changes in the text. Next time I do this something like this (and I hope to!) I’ll definitely make sure the text is exactly what I want before I write the music – after all, I’m a musician and composer, not an author.

I also had the help of the band members in making a lot of decisions about the performance of Theseus. As you can probably imagine, it took a lot of time to get it all together and fine tune it, and I purposefully left some decisions up to the guys in the band, because they all have great, creative minds and I wanted them to have some ownership over it as well.

4. What do you think about when you compose?

”How can I make this as complicated as possible?” Nah, just kidding (mostly). Tricky question. It can take me a while to get around to sitting at my computer and writing (that’s mostly how I do it) but usually once I’m there I’m pretty immersed in it. Or, alternatively, I can get pretty stumped and pissed off sometimes.

When I wrote Theseus there was obviously a particular context for the music I was writing, so my thoughts, at least when starting off, revolved around what I could write that would sound like it fit with stuff like the mood, characters, setting and action. Some of what was in Theseus was already written in older pieces I’ve done. Occasionally I also just do some free improvising when I practice and record it on my computer. I’ve come up with a few cool riffs that way, and then harmonised them and maybe put a melody over the top. A few of the patterns in Theseus came from those little recordings.

Theseus is sort of an exception though. I don’t usually have such a clear aim when I’m writing pieces. I mean, I think about the music itself when I’m composing, of course, but I rarely sit down and compose something that’s about my life. I don’t think I’ve written a song about a breakup, for instance, or about a specific person or occurrence, although I’m sure my general mood and what’s happening in my life sort of gets tangled up in there somewhere. No, usually it starts with me hearing stuff I really like and wanting to adapt one or more of those ideas into something new of my own. Or something pops into my mind that I get carried away with – the bassline of ”Tomorrow I’ll Know” is a good example of that. It came into my head as I was waking up from a nap one day, so I wrote it down and combined some other concepts that I’d heard and liked when writing the melodies, groove and structure. Once I’ve started and I’m into what I’ve got, it sort of takes off…usually.

And yes, I do also have a tendency to make things a little weird and complicated. I like odd time signatures and unconventional chord changes. And grooves, especially wonky ones. And I have this thing where I sort of fear using lots of major chords because I’m afraid of writing stuff that’s too cheesy, even though I know some amazing and beautiful music that’s mostly major and not cheesy. I’m trying to get over that.

5. I see Jeff Wayne gets a ‘thank you’ credit. His 70s ‘War of The Worlds’ top ten blockbuster seems a few lightyears away from your impressionistic writing. Or is the influence closer than we think?

Hehe, including him in the “thank yous” was my little joke, and a reference I hope some nerdy people pick up (yes John, I called you a nerd. It’s a compliment!). Maybe I should also have thanked Prokofiev, for “Peter and the Wolf”! But War of the Worlds definitely influenced Theseus, at least in the initial spark of an idea. As I said earlier, when I received word that I was shortlisted for the Jann Rutherford Memorial Award, I decided that I wanted to do something a bit epic and challenging with it if I got it.

At the time, I had been listening to War of the Worlds (years after having heard it as a kid and being a bit freaked out, yet fascinated) and absolutely loving it. So that was where the idea of writing music to go with a story came from. I thought that jazz would suit this purpose extra well, because of the role improvisation can play in the telling of stories, too. But you’re right, my music is pretty different to Jeff’s!

6. And finally, what are your thoughts on the current state of jazz in particular, and music in general?

Whoah. What a question. I reckon you probably don’t mean “in the whole entire world”…I HOPE you don’t mean “in the whole entire world”, because that’s a hell of a lot of music. So I’ll go with Australia. But mainly Sydney.

Umm, jazz. Jazz is getting blurrier, and I like that. I mean, it was already pretty blurry, and the definition of jazz (is there even one?) is really broad and everyone has a different opinion of where music starts and stops being jazz. What I mean by the blurriness of jazz is all the different things that are being mixed with it, the different instrumentations and technologies people are putting into it, unconventional structures in the music, bands taking their sound to different venues that don’t necessarily identify as “jazz” venues… that sort of thing. And other styles are borrowing from jazz. There are some people who would say a lot of it isn’t jazz anymore – it’s gone too far from tradition, but I think that’s fine. Even if it’s not jazz anymore, it’s still great great music that borrows from jazz, but might not have a name to clearly identify it.

It’s all music and it’s difficult, even annoying, to define. Unfortunately people ask “so what sort of music does that band play?” “Well, it’s sort of world (I don’t like that term, all music is from the world, but the meaning that people have given to that word makes it convenient) music, mostly African type stuff, mixed with jazz but there’s some rock and funk and…oh just listen to this [dodgy recording of a rehearsal/youtube video someone posted last gig they did/new album of theirs I just bought].” That happens to me a lot. It also says a lot about the bands I go and see, and listen to, and play with. So I feel like, even though over the last couple of years my “music bubble” has gotten a lot bigger than the mostly “jazz bubble” it used to be, but of course there’s still TONNES of other music out there, in Australia and the world, that is amazing and inventive and groovy and beautiful. I know I’ll discover some of it, but it’s impossible to hear everything. The music that’s around me is alive and well, and constantly changing, and it’s great.

http://captainkirkwood.bandcamp.com/album/theseus-and-the-minotaur

Published April 2103 on australianjazz.net 

Since forming in 2010, the Sirens Big Band have been a blast of Persian-scented fresh air into Sydney’s jazz scene, a scene where the rare female musician (who is not a vocalist) can stand out like a sapphire in the gravel. The Sirens are all-female, all-funky and all-embracing in their influences.

Sirens - pic Quirijn Mees

Band co-leaders Jessica Dunn and Harriet Harding have guided the Sirens from the beginning into a unique style heavy on the world-music grooves – oh, how I hate that word (as John McLaughlin, himself a great cross-pollinator, said “we ALL live in the World, don’t we?”) – there are Ethiopian, African, Latin, Balkan, Indian sounds there as well as New York funk, Chicago swing and Newtown boogie.

The Sirens’ debut album, Kali and The Time of Change reinforces these pan-continental grooves just as it reinforces the good time the band has when making music. Opener ‘Balkanator’ – penned by trumpeter Ellen Kirkwood (definitely a composer to watch) – jumps out like a joyful and slightly tipsy village wedding dance, the players throwing the solos around over drummer Lauren Benson’s grinning groove.

Sirens mentor (“our jazz mamma”) Sandy Evans’ Indian-spiced nine-minute-plus piece, the title track ‘Kali and The Time of Change’ opens with Harding’s sopranino talking back to the Band’s unison riffs. The piece settles down into a floating groove over which Harding raps “something majestic/ something lyrical/ female Aladdin representing future changes yo…” – a bright rap that evokes scenes in the mind and a call for peace in the heart. Quite beautiful.

Harriet Harding and tenor saxophonist Ruth Wells travelled to the Middle East last year and came back with more than they took away. These inspirations fuelled Harding’s ‘Kali’ rap and also Wells’ gorgeous ‘Hawassa to Addis’. This piece has guitarist Milan Ring singing over the entire band singing as a choir. I don’t know why it affects so deeply but it does – is it the lovely pentatonic Ethiopian folk tune the piece is based on? or is it that the choir of female voices sounds like children? or is it the low blues moan of Jessica Dunn’s bass during her solo? Who knows – best not to dwell on these things, best to just dig beauty as she should be dug, unquestioningly.Sirens Kali

The Sirens have, since their inception, played charts by some wonderful local composers and it is gratifying to see they have included several pieces here that they have had in their setlists from Day One. Paul Murchison’s hip-shaking 7/8 (if there can be such a thing, this is it) ‘I Still Remember’ gets the whole band cooking before a coolly soulful piano solo from Monique Lysiak. Nadia Burgess’s evocative, watercolour-washed ‘The Music in My Dreams’ is a masterclass in jazz big band tone-colour and restraint.

Jenna Cave’s sprightly African-limbed 9/8 jaunt ‘Odd Time In Mali’ has long been a Sirens’ favourite – by the time it smoothes out to 4/4 for Emma Riley’s sinuous trombone solo and Milan Ring’s chicken-picked guitar solo, if your foot ain’t tapping you are either made of machine-parts or dead.

Closing track Mulatu Astatke’s ‘Yekatit’ has all the elements that we love about the Siren’s Big Band – Ethio funk that swings, killer solos (Sophie Unsen’s baritone sax burning here) over a blasting band, and a joyful vibe presiding over all. It is a combination you won’t get anywhere else and they are one of Sydney’s – if not Australia’s – treasures.

The Siren’s Big Band – long may they sing us over the edge.

The Siren’s website is http://www.sirensbigband.com/

Published February 2103 on australianjazz.net 

Jazz singer Crystal Barreca has found her groove. For a few years now I have had the pleasure of hearing Barreca singing around Sydney’s (and now Canberra’s) jazz spots, cafes and holes-in-the-wall. I most recently remember hearing her up front of the amazing all-woman Sirens Big Band (with whom she also played trumpet), tackling Loretta Palmiero’s monkey-puzzle arrangement of ‘My Funny Valentine’ with ease.

There were moments when the ease was too ease-y – when the Sirens’ firepower threatened to immolate her soulful and relaxed jazz voice. There is no danger of that on Crystal’s debut EP, Dreaming. For these five enchanting tracks, Barreca has assembled a group that virtually defines the term ‘simpatico’.

Built on a bed of gypsy manouche groove, reggae-fied swing or latinesque jive, Dreaming occupies a sunny, tree-shade-dappled area of jazz that incorporates elements of pop, folk and soul-blues as it wants. This is entirely fitting as Barreca’s take on jazz singing is not your wedding-singer-Diana-Krall juke box. Her stylistic vocal slurs (sometimes the lyric smears into an area almost closer to scat) and idiosyncratic phrase-endings are pure jazz – a celebration of the freedom that only jazz can. And they are delightful. But the melodies are not jazz melodies, as such. She makes them so.

Andrew Scott’s breezy accordian adds an exotic edge to the double bass and drums of Phill Jenkins and Dom Robinson. Richard Ashby’s manouche guitar chops through with the percussive edge these instruments are known for. Barecca’s Sirens bandmate Palmiero’s soprano sax is used throughout as a foil to Barreca’s vocal – the soprano’s citric-acidity the perfect balance to the vocalist’s milky breathiness. (Another Sirens Big Band friend, trumpeter Ellen Kirkwood, contributes to the strolling New Orleans march intro to opener ‘Just Come On’).

There is not one electric instrument on Dreaming and this acoustic woodiness is captured beautifully by Richard Belkner at Free Energy Device, drawing out all the strength and dimension of these wonderful instruments (played by these wonderful players).

It is a sound-world worth wrapping oneself up in – like the arms of a forest or the older worn parts of a city (maybe Paris), Crystal Barreca’s Dreaming can hold you in its spell for as long as you let it.

Dreaming is being launched at Sydney Vanguard on 23 September.

Crystal Barreca’s website is http://www.crystalbarreca.com

Published September 2012 on megaphoneoz.com