Put simply, this is a truly beautiful record. It features eight very different compositions by eight different women composers, including three from outside the band. In other hands, the diversity of styles might have left more an impression of a compilation than of a coherent, integrated programme of music. But that is certainly not the case here. What strikes immediately is the quality of the arrangements and ensembles. The textures are just sumptuous, almost tactileand you know something's good when the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
From the opening track, Karen Street's "Still Here," both a fox-trot and a jig with bodhran-like drums from Katie Patterson, to the closing Arvo Part-like "Hope" by Carol Jarvis, these are musical events as much compositions. Each one has its own story behind it and each track unfolds like a narrative. Take the title track by vocalist Brigitte Beraha. She uses wordless vocals here, and elsewhere on the album, deftly in combined in concert with the other instruments. The piece has much to tell, and Alyson Cawley's beautifully gruff tenor solo adds new dimensions to the tale.
Shirley Smart's "Palmyra" draws on ten years spent living in Israel. It expresses something of the region's troubled history but does so with a sense of hope, dancing at times with the rhythms of the middle east in all their complexity. And Nikki Iles tune, "Negomi," dedicated to her daughter and to family friend Kenny Wheeler, offers a very different, more straight-ahead experience with a slightly Spanish/Latin feel. Fine solos too from the composer and bassist Charlie Pyne.
And there are so many nice touches here. The recurring motif on Issie Barratt's "Kulning" is varied, expanded and used to create conversations between different instruments with different timbres. Jessica Radcliffe's voice here and throughout is a delight, as is Rosie Turton's fine trombone solo. Turton's free interplay with trumpeter Laura Jurd and solo on Cassie Kinoshi's "Caliban" also belies her youth. "Caliban" is the funkiest track here with great drumming from Jas Kayser and an acerbic performance from altoist Helena Kay.
Which leaves Tori Freestone's "Spontaneous Symmetry," a Latin ballad featuring, Radcliffe's voice, the exceptionally talented Laura Jurd and a beautiful duet between Cawley on tenor and Street on accordion, with interpolations from Radcliffe. All eight pieces on "Donna's Secret" are truly special and totally individual.
All too often women jazz musicians are told by male jazz fans, "Wow! You play just like a guy!" Well, these musicians don't play like guys. They play like themselves. They play like Interchange.