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First there were two, then three and now four. The U.K.-based Shifting Sands quartet has released its second album, Darkest Rose, featuring 13 songs written by original members Deborah Winter and Joanne Lander, along with Mick Hutton.
Winter is a classically trained vocalist who counts among her influences Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Patricia Barber, Ella Fitzgerald and Kurt Elling. Lander, who plays piano and keyboards, has a passion for 19th century piano music. Her influences include Davis, Barber, Bill Evans, Nick Weldon and Theo Travis. Hutton, bass and steel pan, has played more than 5,000 gigs worldwide, covering a wide variety of jazz, including Dixieland and avant-garde. The trio has been joined by Paul Robinson on drums and percussion. Robinson's experience includes playing for Van Morrison and Jan Hammer, among others.
"Darkest Rose is as its title suggests. It's part beauty, part pain with such lyrics as: "your petals shaded by tenderness but edged by a sharp twist. Winter's alto flute voice delivers the lead. Hutton contributes a bass solo that's complemented by Lander's piano. The music is mostly delightful, but darkened by Winter's lyrics. After the solos, she contributes a scat before resuming the lyrical portion.
The brief "Interlude is labeled as instrumental. Winter does offer her voice here, but it sounds more like an instrument than a human, displaying excellent tonal control and range. The track is followed by the melancholy "Solitude. Hutton and Robinson trade in their bass and drums, respectively, for steel pans and congas.
The mood lightens a bit with "Time, which takes on more of a swinging jazz mood. The rhythm shifts gears a couple of times, with Robinson smoothly switching from a straightforward hi-hat/snare beat to an up-tempo pace that employs more cymbals and toms. "Sonnet of Love gets right to the point, lyrically. Winter does sing lead, but most of the emphasis is on the instruments, including a scat by the vocalist.
Throughout most of Darkest Rose, the quartet sticks to a loose formula. Lander and Hutton co-wrote all the tracks, while Winter wrote lyrics for the songs that have them. However, in most cases, the words are few. Winter sings a verse or two, then gives way to the instruments. Each member gets turns at solos, and Winter occasionally offers some wordless vocals. Formula or not, it works.
Track Listing: Darkest Rose; The Sword of Damocles; Ribbon Man; Interlude; Solitude; Time; A Breath Away; Let the Rain Fall; Sonnet of Love; Rainbow Kaleidoscope; Boudica Rising; Silent Dream; Parallel World.