A Small Dream in Red: In the Language of Dreams (2012)
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Singer Nora McCarthy and saxophonist Jorge Sylvester constitute one of the most creative duos in today's jazz scene. Their group, A Small Dream in Red (named after painter Vassily Kandinsky's 1925 masterpiece), made a deep impression with its eponymous 2005 Sundown Jazz debut. McCarthy and Sylvester continue to mine their rich vein of creativity with In the Language of Dreams, offering a powerful cornucopia of musical vision and spiritual aspiration.
Several factors make A Small Dream in Red distinctive. Both McCarthy and Sylvester are remarkably talented musicians with backgrounds in traditional and avant-garde jazz, and for them these two worlds are not separate; they use both structured sounds and joyful noises, and seamlessly harmonize composition and improvisation. They also have the humility to put themselves at the feet of the masters, to use the art of others as a springboard for their own creativity, which on this CD includes improvising lyrics to two songs by saxophonist Ornette Coleman, as well as creating five original compositions inspired by Kandinsky's artwork. Most of all, McCarthy and Sylvester are dedicated to using art as a means to elevate and celebrate the human spirit; their music is about joy and creativity, and cultivating the finer aspects of the human soul.
In a CD of excellent songs, two in particular stand out. "Morning Has Broken/Caged Bird" is a free-flowing integration of songs by Cat Stevens and Abbey Lincoln. Weaving throughout the tune are real bird songs, surely one of the most exquisite sounds on planet Earth. McCarthy and Sylvester intertwine naturally with the birds, and in fact sound rather like birds themselves: McCarthy's voice is pure and stunning; Sylvester's tone deep and true. It's a beautiful merging of music with the natural world, and the resulting song is fresh and lovely.
"Back to the One" is a tour de force, a highly original song about resilience in the face of disaster. Using a quote from the Persian poet Rumi as a catalyst, the tune incorporates a subliminal noise, which eventually grows louder and reveals itself as a newscast about a devastating tsunami. McCarthy and Sylvester sound like a choir of angels as they soar above this heartbreaking story, illustrating how the human spirit can ascend even in the face of tragedy. The song is a fine example of tastefully integrating jazz and electronics, and it's also a beautiful statement about the power of the human soul.
In the Language of Dreams is an explosion of imagination, a dazzling display of music and words, as well as philosophy. A Small Dream in Red has the courage to set itself high goals, and it has the talent and ingenuity to attain them. And because McCarthy and Sylvester are so inspired by creativity, they likewise inspire creativity, and thus the cycle of artistic endeavor goes forward.
Track Listing: Dizzy Bird; Morning Has Broken/Caged Bird; April in Paris; The Blessing; The Sphynx; Study in Compassion; Back to the One; Small Dream in Red; White Stroke; Composition VIII; Lyrical; Yellow Red Blue.
Personnel: Nora McCarthy: voice, lyrics, pedals, bodhran; Jorge Sylvester: alto saxophone; Birds: Canyon Wren, Northern Cardinal, Western Meadowlark, Wood Thrush, White-throated sparrow.
Record Label: Red Zen Records