Ramona Borthwick: One of Us (2009)
Pianist Ramona Borthwick is nothing if not generousoffering up over seventy minutes of quality music on this, her second recording as leader. That the music is constantly arresting is testament to the quality of the arrangements and, in equal measure, to the virtuosity displayed by her quintet.
In effect, the quintet becomes at times a sextet as Borthwick employs her voice like an additional wind instrument to wonderful effect, adding rich harmonic and melodic tones to the music. Blending her voice with the guitar lines of Noel Borthwick or the trumpet/flugelhorn of Ingrid Jensen, she creates quite beautiful harmonies.
From the balladic "One of Us" through the fast-paced "Garden of the Gods" to the Brazilian-sounding "Rio Alegre," the mood of the music is constantly evolving. Subtle changes in pace, voicing and harmony characterize the compositions. This is, however, essentially music which swings, guided by the impressive rhythm section of Johannes Weidenmueller on bass and Adam Cruz on drums.
There is plenty of room for the musicians to express themselves, and the solos, of which there are plenty, are uniformly impressive. Jensen's full-blooded voice has lovely warmth to it; her muted solo on "Eight Winds" is a particular highlight. Noel Borthwick executes clean single note lines and his equally confident improvisations explore territory somewhere between Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny.
Borthwick has a lyrical, uncluttered approach to the piano and her undoubted virtuosity never overshadows the melodicism inherent in her compositions, which makes for very attractive solosfluid and graceful, and her employment of keyboards on a couple of tracks providing a different texture which is no less appealing.
As impressive a pianist as Borthwick is, it is the strength and depth of the compositions which provides the lasting impression on this recording; the brief use of acoustic guitar on "Chinese Whispers" or bent keyboard notes and deep bowed bass on "Resident Alien" add splashes of subtle color to the music. These details contrast pleasingly with the expansive and bold nature of the solos.
Although Borthwick's habitual territory is the small ensemble, it would be interesting to see what she could do with a big-band. The trumpet rising in the background over her tasteful solo on "Retrospeak" and the harmonizing of trumpet and guitar on several occasions would only gain in grandeur if multiplied by more voices.
The bossa-influenced "Rio Alegre" closes a fine recording in upbeat style. Driving bass and cymbals provide a lightly pulsating rhythm over which Borthwick's wordless vocals glide sunnily, recalling the great Brazilian singer/songwriter Joyce Moreno. Strong solos from piano, guitar and trumpet are full of energy and zest.
The vibrancy in the arrangements coupled with enthusiastic playing brings a youthful vigor to what is essentially straight ahead jazz at heart. One of Us is a delightful reminder from Ramona Borthwick and her quintet that jazz this good never goes out of style.
Track Listing: Who's your Mama; Chinese Whispers; Listening to Love; One of Us; Resident Alien; Gaia; Eight Winds; Garden of the Gods; Retrospeak; Rio Alegre.
Personnel: Ramona Borthwick: piano, keyboards, voice; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet, flugelhorn; Noel Borthwick: guitar; Johannes Weidenmueller: bass; Adam Cruz: drums.
Record Label: Leitmotif