Emily Dickinson isn't the first name to spring to mind when you're thinking poetry and jazz. Rural (she lived in Amherst, Massachusetts all her life), introspective, and of strict Calvinist upbringing, Dickinson and jazz sound about as likely as Baz Lurman and a biopic about St Francis of Assissi.
But the unlikeliest of bedfellows sometimes make the sweetest music, and Julia Hulsmann's Good Morning Midnight is such a union: soulful, sinewy piano trio jazz, set around ten Dickinson poems plus one song ("Riverman") from the late English singer/songwriter and Twentieth Century romantic, Nick Drake. Imagine the Esbjörn Svensson Trio with Kurt Elling re-setting the works of William Wordsworth and you're approaching the right ballpark.
Hulsmann has worked with poetry before. Her '03 ACT debut, Scattering Poems, was set to the work of ee cummings, and the more recent Come Closer was an homage to Randy Newman. On both those albums, Hulsmann worked with female singers. For the Dickinson project, she's chosen a man....
And the secret weapon here is undoubtedly Roger Cicero. His schooled, technically facile voice lends itself well to Dickinson's precise and formal versebut the soul/gospel undertones behind the college veneer provide the real spark. On "Will There Really Be A Morning," "Good Morning Midnight," "When Plato Was A Certainty" and "Under The Light" in particular, it's like you're listening to Stevie Wonder. Consciously or unconsciously, Cicero has adopted the signature textures and inflexions of Wonder's voice, notably the dreamy vibrato, the gospel-infused husky cry, the elides up to and down from, and the embellishments of, root notes. At times you could swear you were listening to Innervisions or Talking Book. It's uncanny, not in the slightest Dickinsonianand delightful.
Hulsmann herself is a distinctive composer and improviser. She creates long, long, lyrical lines, whether written or spontaneous, which stretch over six, eight or ten bars before moving on; she can get down and funky, or up and cerebral; and she always swings. In longstanding partners Heinrich Kobberling and Marc Muellbauer, Hulsmann is blessed with an imaginative and agile drum and bass team, with Muellbauer additionally a fine arranger. (He scored the expanded lineup featured on "Will There Really Be A Morning" and "Riverman.")
It all adds up to an unlikely and unexpected pleasure.
Personnel: Roger Cicero: vocals; Julia Hulsmann: piano, Rhodes, Nord Modular G2; Marc Muellbauer: bass; Heinrich Kobberling: drums; Tilman Ehrhorn: electronics (4); Martin Auer, Rainer Brennecke: flugelhorn (2,9); Jonas Schoen: alto saxophone (2,9); Sarah Willis: french horn (2,9); Christian Gerber: bandoneon (2,9).