Austrian-born but New York-based Elisabeth Lohninger is a first rate singer and talented composer. Backed by a superb rhythm section, Lohninger delivers impressive performances on Beneath Your Surface.
Singing in English, French, and German, Lohninger displays an extraordinary stylistic fluency and versatility.
Lohninger herself composed most of the songs. I was particularly impressed with "I Remember," a beautiful ballad about the fleeting nature of love which features a highly chromatic melody with difficult intervals and a lot of harmonic twists. It's a real challening tune, and Lohninger pulls it off with considerable aplomb. Walter Fischbacher's understated piano solo fits perfectly, underscoring the close communication among the musicians. This is jazz as chamber music, a synchronization of musical ideals.
Lohninger excels in writing with unusual time signatures. "Lost in You" is an eccentric jazz waltz in 7/4, while "Home" is a swinger in 5/4. Wit and a good sense of humor are also Lohninger hallmarks. It's hard to keep a straight face while listening to her tango arrangement of "Frag mich nicht, ob ich dich liebe" ("Don't Ask Me Whether I Love You"), which literally drips with irony and fake Weltschmerz. Sally Bowles, call your office.
Lohninger's husky alto voice is shown to great effect on her arrangement of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now." Normally this hackneyed tune is right up on the nausea scale with "What the World Needs Now" and "Feelings," but Lohninger manages to find depths of emotion that one would have thought impossible given the material at hand.
Beneath Your Surface is, simply put, one of the most satisfying jazz vocal recordings of this year. Elisabeth Lohninger manages to swing and make you think at the same time, and that is no easy feat.
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Personnel: Elisabeth Lohninger, voice; Walter Fischbacher, piano; Steve Doyle, bass; Hari Ganglberger, drums.