Laurie Antonioli: A Constellation In The West
The majority of Foreign Affair is original material by Antonioli and bassist Nenad Vasilic, a titanic talent himself. The neighborhood of the music is distinctly Eastern Europe, brandished by the presence of Vasilic and the rich Old World heritage of Antonioli herself. Heritage informs every song on this disc. The opener is a Vasilic original, "Ballad for Djole," a languid tango that readily illustrates the value of drummer John Hollenbeck to jazz and music in general, and also exactly how breathy a tenor saxophone played by Johannes Enders can be. Sensual, sexual, slowly ebbing, this piece perfectly frames what can be expected from the rest of the disc.
"Holy Water," written by bassist John Shifflett and Antonioli, is a crisply beautiful tome on spirituality, sporting Vasilic's exacting bass and Ender's soprano saxophone. "Where Flamingos Fly" returns to the languid voluptuousness of the opening number, propelled by Vasilic's demanding bass figure and guitarist Armen Xhaferi's modern accompaniment. Likewise is Vasilic's "Tschusch Chochek." Hollenbeck's precise and understated drumming balances Antonioli's Eastern thinking vocalese, achieving an unusually fine musical eutection. Antonioli's "I Know You" might be the jazziest of the pieces, but then again, it is more broadly based. Joe Henderson's "Crni Narcis" and Keith Jarrett's "The Cure" reveal the singer's acute interpretive power. The latter presents more Antonioli vocalese/scat talent, presented to very great effect.
Laurie Antonioli and Richie Beirach
The Duo Session
While chronologically next in the Antonioli discography, The Duo Session was recorded between the two former releases in 1992. Another piano-voice duet, this time with pianist/composer Richie Beirach, The Duo Session takes on the quasi-theme of vocalese based on trumpeter Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959). Chief among the Blue offerings are highly impressionistic performances of "Flamenco Sketches" and "Blue in Green." Beirach is a much different pianist and accompanist than George Cables, drawing out a greater maturity in the singer.
"You and the Night and the Music" and "On Green Dolphin Street" are the straightest jazz on the disc, but are not without their surprises. In the former, Beirach provides percussive instrumental drama to sweep Antonioli's sensual tsunami to its only logical conclusion. The latter standard is revealed as a straight-man lament to the movie-by-the-same-name's spoof plot. "You Don't Know What Love Is" is given a driving edge with lightly dissonant piano by Beirach. Antonioli sings from her lower register, muscular, assertive and commanding.
Larry Gelb's "New Souls" adds a quiet grace to the recording. A ballad in name and personality, the song could easily be a Broadway aria. The closing two Beirach compositions find Antonioli entering the Theo Bleckmann realm of vocal performance art, where she modulates her voice in what can be considered extra-jazz ways. That may be the most appropriate way to hear her music, as expanding the creative edges of not just jazz, but all music.
American Dreams brings us to the contemporary Laurie Antonioli. The disc is a collection of originals, standards and ringers that together act as the most logical evolution out of Foreign Affair. The singer's vision extends into the realm of Americana in a fresh and informative way, further extrapolating the language of Cassandra Wilson from the 1990s. Again, Antonioli relies on a superb bassist in John Shifflett and drummer Jason Lewis, who provide the perspicacious rhythm drive that makes this recording such a brainy one. Antonioli achieves a natural balance between the emotive and intellect in both her choice of repertoire and its performance.
The singer teams up with KUG colleague and pianist Fritz Pauer for close to half of the offered selections, the best being "How Long" with its distinctly Midwestern flavor courtesy of Dave McNab's sinewy slide guitar. The melody and structure, as well as Sheldon Brown's tenor saxophone, recall a young Billy Joel, circa The Stranger (Columbia, 1977), brilliantly updated. The singer digs deeper into the American landscape with "The Dreary Black Hills/Get Up and Go," again buoyed by guitarist McNab, whose solo on "Get Up and Go" echoes Toy Caldwell with a serious jazz jones. "America the Beautiful" is sumptuous with Antonioli's rich voice and Sheldon Brown's spot-perfect bass clarinet brushing with broad strokes. This is a beautiful American landscape captured in music.