Change is an inevitable part of life and music. The very essence of being a jazz musician involves catching a musical moment that never comes back again, but occasionally, a record shows up that is both a document of change and the sum of a lifetime. With Change
, Danish jazz singer, guitarist and songwriter, Mette Juul
, has released such an album.
Since her debut, Coming in from the Dark
(Cowbell Music, 2010), Juul has played with the very best musicians on the Danish jazz scene, including drummers Alex Riel
and Morten Lund
and pianists Nikolaj Hess
and Heine Hansen
, but she has also collaborated closely with trendsetting trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire
and the distinguished Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson
Danielsson also shows up on Change
in the role of bassist and co-producer, but instrumentally, the bass plays a minor, if important part, as does the autumnal touch of pianist Heine Hansen. Instead, the album centres around the intimate sound of nylon and steel string guitar with Juul getting first class assistance from Ulf Wakenius
, Per Møllehøj
and Gilad Hekselman
. Hekselman already showed his symbiotic understanding of the sparse pairing between vocal and acoustic guitar on Lilly's album Tenderly
(Gateway Music, 2017) and once again his playing shimmers on Juul's own "Northern Woods" and Antonio Carlos Jobim
There is also another song on the album by Jobim, "Double Rainbow." The wonder is how Juul makes the familiar music fresh and fleshes out all the colors of the musical rainbow, bringing out the breathing poetry of Jobim's diction and the striking lyrical images of Gene Lees' lyrics.
Juul is not only a lucid interpreter of songs, she also knows how to put them together. Coming in from the Dark
included one of Frank Sinatra
's signature songs, "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," and like Sinatra, she masters the art of the concept album. Every song on the album reflects processes of change from day to night, loving to leaving and youth to adulthood.
However, while the songs reflect change inherently, they also represent it in dialog with each other and previous albums. Thus, "Double Rainbow" has previously been covered on Juul's There Is a Song
(Universal, 2015) and the title track is renamed "At Home," a song dedicated to Juul's childhood home and her mother where the physical room of the home and emotional space of a song melts together: "I remember the place / where I heard my mother sing and felt at home / this was her favorite place to be free / song to song, smile to smile / my mother's song lives with me."
The connection between a place and an emotional state is also highlighted in Juul's "Northern Woods," where the forest provides a natural space of musical reflection that goes beyond the bustle of urban modernity: "Hear how a whisper of trees / sing melodies of a time long gone / music that will never change / voices that won't forget your name." The way Juul naturally moves from trees to melodies in the soft transition of a rhyme subtly underlines the point that words, nature and music can become one, just as a voice can become a horn. Chet Baker
could play his trumpet like the whisper of a voice, but on the opening track, "Beautiful Love," Juul sings with a voice like a horn.
Thematically, the songs also enlighten each other. If "Young Song" says that "true love is not for lazy lovers / who seek oblivion and ecstasy," the song "It Might Be Time to Say Goodbye" tells the story of someone who is seduced by the constant romantic craving of sensory oblivion and ecstasy: "There are things I long to try / life I must explore alone." As a consequence, a true love might be lost as the lyric realizes in the end: "This might be the dumbest thing I'll ever do / might never find someone / sweet as you." The song is a highlight among a string of uniformly great songs penned by Juul that don't need to blush in the company of Jobim and Cole Porter
, whose many-sided emotional depth is uncovered in "Get Out of Town."
In the end, the album suggests that change can come in many ways. Through it all, music remains the prism "Where you can listen to the things your heart is saying," as it says in the cover of Jimmy Rowles
and Norma Winstone
's "The Peacocks (A Timeless Place)." Indeed, this album is an affair of the heart, but it is also a musical space for contemplation and solace. Everything comes together here, even the art inside the cover by acclaimed Danish painter Michael Kvium underlines the ambiguous beauty of change and captures several shades of the seasons. It is a strong argument for getting the physical edition of the album that also includes lyrics in the booklet.
It is an important point that music is never finished, and Mette Juul is certainly on the path to new discoveries and stories with an EP of other songs from the sessions already scheduled for release. Right now, Change
is nothing short of a major musical accomplishment from Juul that hopefully will expand her circle of listeners.