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Tessa Souter: Beyond The Blue

Dan Bilawsky By

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The mere mention of jazz-classical hybridization may draw scowls from jazz fans who've encountered more than their fare share of ill-conceived projects that trade in on this idea, but vocalist Tessa Souter avoids all the usual pitfalls. Beyond The Blue isn't about joining these worlds at the hip; it's about using the frameworks and melodies of classical works as the foundation and scaffolding for new ideas.

Souter saunters her way through a dozen alluring pieces built around the work of Beethoven, Borodin and Chopin, amongst others, but she never apes the originals or resorts to cheap, paint-by-numbers, swinging-the-classics gimmickry. She works with warm colors and relaxed moodiness, avoiding overly bright sounds or notions for the majority of the album. While each piece is full of emotive expressionism, Souter never overplays her hand in the music and she always finds a way to weave her lyrics into the textural fabric of the whole. Some singers make their mark by standing in front of, or apart from, their bands, but Souter revels in the integrative possibilities at hand.

The seed of inspiration for this project was pianist Steve Kuhn's take on Chopin's "Prelude In E Minor"—from Pavane For A Dead Princess (Venus, 2006)—and the trio from that album provides masterful support and companionship for Souter during this journey. Kuhn's piano can be ruminative or rousing, but his touch is always sensitive and suffused with color, and the rhythm tandem of bassist David Finck and drummer Billy Drummond is to-die-for. Finck can be alternately springy or sound of body and Drummond can play it loose or tight with equal skill.

The ensemble is rounded out with vibraphonist Joe Locke, saxophonist Joel Frahm and accordion ace Gary Versace, who help to provide added depth and descriptive details to the music. All three men mix noir-ish elements and chamber jazz ideals into these works. On the solo front, Kuhn, Locke and Frahm garner the most attention, but Finck also makes a few noteworthy contributions along the way.

While Souter includes a few classics that were previously cut from the same classical-to-jazz cloth ("Baubles, Bangles And Beads"), the majority of the numbers are new-old works, with her own lyrics grafted onto organically shaped bodies built by the band. Everything from Joaquin Rodrigo's jazz-associated work to Tomaso Albinoni's off-the-well-known-path "Adagio In G Minor" are putty in Souter's capable hands, as she molds them into fine works of art. Beyond The Blue is a beyond-beautiful collection of music that bridges the classical-jazz divide without issue.

Track Listing: Prelude To The Sun; The Lamp Is Low; Dance With Me; Chiaroscuro; My Reverie; En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor; Sunrise; Baubles, Bangles And Beads; Beyond The Blue; The Darkness Of Your Eyes; Noa's Dreams; Brand New Day.

Personnel: Tessa Souter: vocals; Steve Kuhn: piano; David Finck: bass; Billy Drummond: drums; Joe Locke: vibraphone; Gary Versace: accordion; Joel Frahm: saxophones.

Title: Beyond The Blue | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Motema Music


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