The combination of a female vocalist backed by a solo guitar is not a heavily- exploited instrumentation, and there's a reason for thatit's very hard to pull off. While Ella Fitzgerald
's recordings with Joe Pass
are a perhaps the gold standard, overwhelmingly the piano is the stand-alone accompaniment instrument of choice for singers. But vocalist Petra van Nuis
and guitarist Andy Brown's wonderful Far Away Places
is a reminder of the beauty this form can achieve, and how the inherent openness of a duet setting can add interesting, expectant overtones to the music.
To their credit, van Nuis and Brown keep the tracks fairly straightforward, choosing songs with charming melodies and then never straying too far away from them. The tunes are a mix of up-tempo standards, dreamy ballads, and Latin tunes. Their take on a cut like "Me, Myself And I" adds just the right amount of harmonic complexity while maintaining the song's unambiguous melody. The opening track, "Destination Moon," achieves similar results with Brown's savory voicings teasing the ear while pushing the rhythm ahead at a loping pace.
Throughout the album, van Nuis' vocal quality is at once strong and wistful. In "A Cottage For Sale," she hangs on notes perfectly, releasing them as if saying goodbye to a good friend. There is also an innocence in van Nuis' voice that she exploits beautifully on the Cole Porter tune "From This Moment On." On the title track, a lovely ballad whose dreamy lyrics seem tailor made for her vocal talents, van Nuis never fails to support the melody's cadences with her range and endearing clarity.
It's unfair to term Brown's playing as "accompaniment," because his guitar adds a wholly other voice to the album. In "Born To Blow The Blues," Brown slides into chordings with a sax-like quality on one bar before unleashing a shimmering staccato voicing at the next change. Always mindful of the melody, Brown manages to wrap his rich harmonic style in a unhurried feel that calls to mind the spirit of George Van Eps
with a current harmonic understanding. On the Duke Ellington
classic "Caravan" and the Antonio Carlos Jobim
cut "Bim Bom," Brown's dexterous playing really jumps off the disc with its crisp, steady feel that mixes walking bass lines, pulsing chord melodies and even some open string drone passages. Brown's playing throughout is filled with a vibrate fluidity that defines the album and keeps the ear interested track after track.
Far Away Places is an unique album with a relaxed feeling that more than handles the acoustic constraints of a duo setting. With smart song choices, engaging vocal interpretations, and captivating guitar work this album creates a beautiful landscape with minimal digressions. Petra van Nuis
and Andy Brown's interpretations are over-flowing with skill and imagination.
Personnel: Petra van Nuis: vocals; Andy Brown: guitar.