Joanna Pascale: When Lights are Low
When Lights are Low
The quintessential instrument of jazz, perhaps all of music, is the female voice. While jazz has many personae and "voices" (I think of John Coltrane's "preacher" inflections, Miles Davis' contemplative, moody, and earthy "speaking through the horn," Bill Evans' dreamy, complex, ethereal "muse," etc.), the female voice most fully embodies the dialectic of blues and ecstasy, the resiliency, and the inner spiritual core of the jazz idiom and syntax. Jazz is the "speech" of the African American "Mother" exemplified in the drama, "Raisin in the Sun," and the female lover, both of whom contain the victory and defeat, the hope and the pain of those to whom they give life and love, i.e. all of us. That is why no one represents the soul of jazz more than the woman who, I think literally, gave her life to this art form: Billie Holiday.
Joanna Pascale's debut CD, When Lights are Low, is a searching exploration of the female voice, its many facets and subtleties, within the context of rendering ballad standards in a "classic," timeless way. There are no "frills," cliches, or "tricks of the trade" in this album, nothing clever or stylish about it. It is simply an attempt to manifest the "pure clear word" of these songs as transparently as possible. The accompaniment follows suit. Terell Stafford's solo on "Easy Living" states the case. It is a lyrical improvisation that makes no attempt to be "modern" and flashy- rather, it echoes the evolution of jazz trumpet playing from Armstrong through Beiderbecke to Baker as a unified whole rather than a series of signature styles. This CD is entirely a statement about classic jazz as having one core, one essence. And Pascale is up to that challenge.
Joanna achieves this timeless element by making the most of its opposite: the moment. If you listen carefully- and this album deserves a thoughtful hearing- you will hear the way in which each note, each inflection, each bar gets careful, special, and immediate attention from the singer, as she shifts effortlessly from lyricism to staccato punctuation to impassioned vibrato to lingering on a note, to whatever it is in the voice that gives the musical moment and the words a meaning. You end up experiencing many of the marvelous things that the female voice can do, not so much the extremes of dynamics and high and low notes that you get with Sarah Vaughan and Diane Schuur, but the subtlty, simplicity, emotional nuances, and resilience of phrasing that you find in Holiday, Cleo Lane, and - on another level - Irene Kral and Chris Connor.
The instrumental accompaniment of this album artfully strives for the same kind of balance that Joanna achieves vocally. She gives each musician ample time to solo, and Farid Barron's piano is especially graceful, while the rest also perform professionally and artfully as they provide a suitable backdrop to the singing. Byron Landham's drumming, as always, posesses his gentle, well-modulated, yet strong, swinging "feel" that is the "deus ex machina" ("god in the machine") behind the whole ensemble effect.
All in all, this debut album shows that Joanna Pascale is a new, young talent to be reckoned with. It will be intriguing to see and hear what her future holds in store.
Track listing: When Lights are Low, Call Me Irresponsible, I Just Found Out About Love, Stardust, Easy Living, In the Still of the Night, Give Me the Simple Life, You Go to My Head, Girl Talk, Too Marvelous For Words, Fools Rush In, Come Rain or Come Shine
Personnel: Terell Stafford (trumpet), Farid Baron & Gary Moran (piano), Madison Rast (bass), Byron Landham (drums), and Craig Ebner (guitar)