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Elisabeth Lohninger & Walter Fischbacher: Ballads in Blue

C. Michael Bailey By

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Often art results from the most difficult of circumstances. I suppose it has something to do with that cliché, ..."when life gives one lemons...make lemonade." It would be naïve to believe that just anyone could make lemonade. It takes guts, talent, thought, and often, not just a little luck. Such are the conditions surrounding the recording of Ballads in Blue by the wife and husband team of Elisabeth Lohninger and Walter Fischbacher. Lohninger had been considering a ballads recording for some time, but never fully committed herself to it as she was busy, with Fischbacher, in running their Lofish Recording Studios in New York City for the past 15 years. Lofish were the studios where Lohninger recorded the lion's share of her own recordings as well as recordings by Beat Kaestli and Jose James.

Lofish Studios then became a victim of NYC gentrification and promptly came to an end. This event provided Lohninger and Fischbacher both the time and introspection to pursue the ballads project that had been percolating for the last several years. Lohninger has had plenty of practice preparing for this project. Her previous recordings, including: Beneath the Surface (Lofish, 2004); The Only Way Out is Up (Lofish, 2007); Songs of Love and Destruction (Lofish, 2010); Christmas in July (Lofish, 2011), and Elisabeth Lohninger Quartet: Live (Lofish, 2012) all offer hints of Lohninger's ability with ballads.

Typically, I am scared to death of ballad collections. This is mainly because week in and week out, I receive so many examples of poorly performed, programmed, or conceived ballad projects that there is a dilution of the genre so significant that truly great recordings can almost be missed (at least in my world). Happily, there is otherwise abundant talent to still surprise and delight with the Great American Songbook. What is so important about the Songbook and the ballads it contains is that the songs are presented, more or less, as composed. They offer us a starting point in listening to and appreciating jazz because these songs were the foundation upon which jazz was built. The only way to understand and appreciate Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker's 1946 performance of "All the Thing You Are" is to hear it as Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein heard it. That is the starting place...and instrumentally, everything else is improvisation, the lifeblood of jazz.

Lohninger and Fischbacher's contribution here is nothing short of a perfectly conceived and executed program of studiously chosen standards rendered in the ideal format: a duet is that also a marriage, partnership, shared expression. Both principles are elegantly restrained, Lohninger touches the familiar words and melodies in such a way to accentuate their presence. Fischbacher's accompaniment is calmly warm and inventive without ever getting the way of what the two are doing. Lohninger sings "Never Let Me Go" in such a way that it is easy to understand why the piece was a favorite of Keith Jarrett and how "But Beautiful" served as such a superb taking-off point for Art Pepper.

"All the Things You Are" is a master's class in ballad performance. Lohninger's sweetly balanced voice creates a synergy with material making the experience of listening almost tactile. "Skylark" is fresh scrubbed, with no patina of sepia evident. Fischbacher provides a simple figure and nature completes the recording. I am glad that the pair waited until now to produce this gem. It takes life to grasp and produce the series of tones and words that make up the book of this project. What a splendid last recording to have been made in their studio.

Track Listing: So Many Stars; You Don’t Know What Love Is; All The Things You Are; Never Let Me Go; Skylark; Ev’ry time We Say Goodbye; When I Fall in Love; But Beautiful; I’ve Grow Accustomed to Your Face; I Remember Christmas; For All We Know.

Personnel: Elisabeth Lohninger: vocals; Walter Fischbacher: piano.

Title: Ballads in Blue | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Jazz Sick Records

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