The Words Project
New Amsterdam Records
Musical settings of poetry remain rare in jazz. Pianist Ketil Björnstad's accessible readings of John Donne's metaphysical poems and bassist Steve Swallow's longtime affair with Robert Creeley have replenished the genre to a degree, but few artists have braved the near-stigmatized art form, let alone on their first album as leader. With The Words Project, however, reedman Sam Sadigursky's well tailored musical atmospheres reveal a sensitive approach to musical prosody.
Drawn from the serious and not so serious pages of Penelope Shuttle, Donald Justice, Maxine Kumin, Czeslaw Milosz and Osip Mandelshtam, the more upbeat and uplifting texts here become a set of vaporous, modernist scenescapes. Marked contrasts are achieved with one of Marina Tsvetaeva's uneasy missives, a Sylvia Plath surrealist riddle and Mark Boog's rather violent and deranging "Water, Aspirin, You. Throughout, Sadigursky's flowing phraseology empathetically follows the free versed and, oftentimes, tricky meters.
For example, in Milosz's inspirational "After Paradise, he has Heather Masse's Joni Mitchell-inflected voice go down to the extreme lower range on the pentasyllabic "subterrenean and follows with a repeated, majestic melody solemnly anchored by a backbeat. The malaise of Boog's verse finds a compositional echo in the melody's psychotic intervallic leaps and disturbing, repeated high notes (that certainly do "tick onto the tympanums ), until guest guitarist Nate Radley enters with a delay-drenched, Kurt Rosenwinkel-tinged solo.
Sadigursky's emphasis of the female voice's high register on this track may turn off some listeners. By the same token, a half or whole step down transposition in the arrangement of "Still Life would have yielded less strained vocal pitches. Inversely, Noam Weinstein's low murmur on Kumin's "After Love succeeds, despite its shakiness and approximate pitch, in bringing the listener into the narrator's domestic intimacy.
Tsvetaeva's confessional poem "I'm Glad Your Sickness, is equally intimate. The track's spare arrangement puts focus on Monika Heidemann's fragile, Björk-influenced interpretation. But the program's high point is Nobel Prize laureate Milosz's "Love, a powerful call for an unegotistical transformation of humanity through love, detachment and humility. Perfectly matched with Becca Stevens' tone, the profoundly meaningful text's second exposition sees Heidemann singing the lines in a fugue and culminating with Sadigursky's Coltrane-ish modal excursion.
Also surprisingly attractive is Mendelshtam's "Gardener And Flower Too, whose word field relates to the traumatic concept of physiological entrapment (the poet establishes a metaphor between his body and what appears to be a greenhouse), and is supported by a fast, nervous ride cymbal pattern that finds release in the "chorus. Looser is Shuttle's "In The Kitchen, an ode to kitchen appliances that takes the form of a ludic tango.
The Project's more challenging moments, enlivened by its instigator's elaborate melodies, fare very well, and are given a unity despite the multifarious sweep of the original material.
Tracks: After Paradise; Still Life; I'm Glad Your Sickness; Water, Aspirin, You; Love; In The Kitchen; Gardener And Flower Too; You're; Epitaph For A Pair Of Old Shoes; After Love.
Personnel: Heather Masse, Becca Stevens, Monika Heidemann, Noam Weinstein: vocals; Pete Rende: piano; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Tommy Crane: drums; Nate Radley: guitar; Robert Burkhart: cello; Sam Sadigursky: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and alto flute, clarinet and bass clarinet, percussion.
Personnel: Heather Masse: vocals; Becca Stevens: vocals; Monika Heidemann: vocals; Noam Weinstein: vocals; Pete Rende: piano; Eivind Opsvik: bass; Tommy Crane: drums; Nate Radley: guitar; Robert Burkhart: cello; Sam Sadigursky: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and alto flute, clarinet and bass clarinet, percussion.