Monika Heidemann: Bright (2005)
Bright is another entry in what seems to be the burgeoning genre of indie rock/jazz or jazz/indie rock being created by very strong composer/arrangers. The music of Monika Heidemann can easily be compared to Lily Masse's Aftermath, not so much in its particular compositional esthetic, which is very different, but in its rhythmic attitude, coupled with the way the music expresses the composer's emotions by telling stories. Another example is Projector by Dan Nettle (aka Kenosha Kid), which, while also different, grafts non-jazz rhythms and structures onto the jazz esthetic.
Heidemann's music starts from text, mostly written by her (also by Allen Ginsberg and Herman Melville, among others) that might or might not be called poetry, depending on your sensibilities. The words do not have a poetic pulse, so the "melodies are quite free-form, and some of the music is by Steve Lacy ("Somebody Special and "Art ). Texturally, Heidemann mixes all sorts of styles which could be labeled Joni Mitchell meets Frank Zappa, bringing along freaked-out Indigo Girls and occasionally the Hilliard Ensemble. There is a lot going on all the time and each track, while having its own groove, rarely settles down for any length of time. There are motives, phrases, and sonic arrangements that mold the character of each piece, making it a complete whole.
Heidemann lists herself as just "voice, but hers is quite an instrument, played mostly without any vibrato, but always right on pitch. Its timbre ranges from ethereal (especially when mixing with other voices, as on "Organs and the title piece, "Bright ) to forceful, but it's always full of emotion and personality.
The musicians are all very skilled, and the arrangements feel quite complicated, since the words have no repetitive rhythmic structure. However, the music truly flows and the band sounds like an entity. How much is written and how improvised is hard to know. The band's instrumentation is different than the usual, including vibraphone/xylophone (with various electronics added) and guitar (whose sound definitely comes from the rock world, but whose lines are more in the jazz world). Jeremy Udden (of Either/Orchestra fame) fits right in on "Somebody Special, but then again, Russ Gershon is hardly a reactionary.
While I haven't seen this band perform (unfortunately), my mind's eye sees the performance space literally taken over by Heidemann fronting the backing quartet of intense, extremely well-rehearsed musicians who together tell stories, rather than play tunes. Everything is very well thought out, and this music should deeply impress anyone who has open ears and a lack of expectations.
Heidemann might not know where jazz is going, but she definitely knows where it has been, and she's busy creating her own totally engrossing musical world that must be heard rather than read about. Bright, as well as the two other albums mentioned above, might just be the beginning of a new jazz genre in search of a name. Highly recommended.
Note: this recording is available online from the Downtown Music Gallery.
Track Listing: Organs; Somebody Special; Details; The Race; Bright; Written in my Dream; Art.
Personnel: Monika Heidemann: voice; Matt Moran: vibraphone; Massimo Biolcati: bass; Khabu Doug Young: guitar; Take Toriyama: drums; guests - Amelia Hollander: viola (5); Jeremy Udden: alto saxophone (2); Aoife O'Donovan: voice (5); Ayelet Gottlieb: voice (5); Sofia Koutsovitis: voice (1); Bradley Kemp: background vocals (1); Adam Schneit: background vocals (1).
Record Label: Self Produced
Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock