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New Singing Things

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There seem to be as many different forms and functions for our voices as there are musical styles for our instruments. Whether recorded in live performance, recorded in the studio, or chopped and looped into a preexisting mix, several recent releases spotlight the human voice.

Andy Bey
Ain't Necessarily So
12th Street
2007

The supple, nurturing hands and voice of pianist / vocalist Andy Bey generally dispenses most music in two flavors, either a ballad or a blues. This live recording during Bey's first headline appearance at the world famous jazz hotspot Birdland continues his series of albums with producer Herb Jordan, who, like most listeners, remains amazed at Bey's subtle musicianship: "He approaches chord changes and rhythm in a way that many others just do not. He finds harmonic subtleties that escape many singers."

Bey commands a trio with bassist Peter Washington and either drummer Vito Lesczak or Kenny Washington, and in this setting begs for comparison with Nat King Cole, another highly individualized jazz pianist more widely known as a singer. Shaded in dark piano chords, Bey's voice in this opening, title track submerges you neck deep in the reflective spirit of this entire set—it jives sometimes, it hurts sometimes, but it's always beautiful. You won't find another artist whose music is more perfectly suited for a rainy day.

Necessarily sets a slow, smoldering tone but it's not all moody Bey brooding. "All the Things You Are" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" move their tempos uptown, and his unique falsetto in "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" coolly and elegantly glides above and between the notes of the melody, demonstrating how Bey brushstrokes his piano and voice together to illuminate a tune. His piano in the completely instrumental "If I Should Lose You" bounces through the intersection of Horace Silver's lusty Latin soul and Cecil Taylor's heady abstractions.

But the finale is the killer. Bey's hesitant, thoughtful phrasing and restless, plaintive voice blossom throughout "Someone to Watch Over Me" into palpable longing and loss. It just hurts so good. Though he dedicates this take to Sarah Vaughan (specifically her version from The Gershwin Songbook), I would go so far as to say that Bey's version of "Someone to Watch Over Me" surpasses not only hers but all others, and is the definitive.

Sarah Brightman
Symphony
Manhattan
2007

The vocal star of Cats, Phantom of the Opera and Requiem may be the former Mrs. Andrew Lloyd-Weber but this Symphony proves that Sarah Brightman will never leave epic melodrama too far behind. Brightman continues to satisfy both critics and her public by working through the crossroads of classic popular music, popular classical music, theatrical show tunes—and, on this new album, recorded across three different countries with her longtime producer Frank Peterson, evocative orchestral goth. "Over the past four years of recording this album, I find myself approaching my music even more visually than I ever have before," Brightman says. "I found that the canvas was endless for this album."

The first note you hear Brightman sing—in "Fleurs du Mal," after the "Gothica" orchestral prelude—unleashes from on high an almost impossible note, a purely musical sound that seems more godly than human. There's little need for the choir in its chorus because a voice this powerful needs no such backup. The title track makes this same point: One of this set's least overwrought and complicated arrangement gives her voice room to breathe into the lyrics gorgeous life (Her previous relationship with AL-W makes this chorus particularly poignant: "Symphony/ It's gone quiet around us now/ How I wish you would hold me/ And that you'd never told me/ That it's better if you leave"). Similarly, her voice ethereally moves like a spirit over the quiet, still waters of "Sanvean."

Symphony also features several Brightman duets. She reprises "Canta Della Terra" with Andrea Bocelli, one of the few singers whose voice she cannot overpower, and beautifully renders "Sarai Qui" with Italian tenor Alessandro Safina. "Pasión" with countertenor Fernando Lima aches with longing yet twirls dashing and romantic, like a Spanish dancer. On "I Will Be With You (Where the Lost Ones Go)," Brightman teams with Paul Stanley, who herewith takes a gigantic leap forward in his quest to transform from badass Kiss lead guitarist to Cher impersonator. Someone—even if I'm not quite sure whom—should have known better than this.

Brightman concludes her Symphony with the three-part suite "Running," the International Association of Athletics Federation Green Project Charity song, which borrows its middle section from the straight-on 4/4 rock of Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell" then bookends it with an orchestral melody and chorus.


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