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Dot Time Records: Placing the Artist in the Center

Jakob Baekgaard By

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The tone, though, is overall joyful, sensual and relaxed and the title Enjoy the Ride might be a suitable message for an album that is all about elegance and positivity—even in the middle of hard times. "Pick yourself up / and try it again" is Atherton's advice and those with a taste for smooth jazz could do a lot worse than pick this excellent album up.

Maria Mendes
Along the Road
2012

Dot Time Records has a strong roster of female artists. Paula Atherton is an example and another case in point is the Portuguese-born singer, Maria Mendes, who has found a home in the Netherlands where she has become a part of the blooming jazz scene.

On Along the Road, her sparkling debut, she has found empathic backing in the Dutch trio of pianist Karel Boehlee, bassist Clemens van der Feen and drummer Jasper van Hulten . Besides the core trio, harmonica-player Wim Dijkgraaf also features and adds a characteristic touch of yearning romanticism reminiscent of Toots Thielemans.

The album might have been titled The Best of Two Worlds. The two worlds on display are the familiar fields of American standards, represented with a classic like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and the more exotic rhythms of Latin America that beat vitally in Mendes' beautiful rendition of Hermeto Pascoal's Brazilian classic "Chorinho Pra Ele" where bassist Clemens van der Feen delivers a solo that sings like the human voice while Mendes scats like a horn.

A musical celebrity like Quincy Jones has praised Mendes saying: "I see a promising and shining future for this young talented singer." Along the Road might just be the beginning of a long musical journey, but it is also a testimony of singer who already imbues her art with a melancholy maturity and the deep sense of feeling found in the Fado of her birth country.

Lucette van den Berg
Benkshaft
2012

It might seem like the Latin American standards of Maria Mendes and Lucette van den Berg's Yiddish music are worlds apart, but in fact they're more like kindred spirits. What they share is a deep sense of feeling and the ability to tell a story through music. A story that can be told through tears, but also be carried by strength and will.

Benkshaft is the third album from Lucette van den Berg. Here, her congenial understanding of Yiddish balladry is allowed to shine. The accompaniment is sparse, but effective, and the combination of guitar, upright bass, subtle percussion and classic Klezmer-instruments like violin and accordion provide the perfect foil for Van den Berg's musical tales.

The opener, "A Kleyn Wiglid Far A Groyse Libe," is an achievement in itself. With its eight minutes, it's a ballad of epic proportions that starts with a gently picked guitar before Van den Berg's voice enters. The song slowly builds in tension as bass and a weeping violin is added and in the end, percussionist Ines Klink joins as Van den Berg's swirls in a wordless cry.

The violin is a prominent instrument on the album and Madelien Verheij really makes it sing like a human voice. So much so, that it's almost like a duet where Verheij makes the strings burn with emotion. But it's not all deep balladry, there's also room for a joyful dance on "Wolekh" where Sanne Möricke's accordion takes the spotlight in a song filled with restless energy. Like all the music on the album, it's intense and soulful and proves that folk music isn't a thing of the past, but a timeless expression of the human heart.

Arik Strauss
Mostly Ballads
2012

Pianist Arik Strauss grew up in Israel and also knows about Jewish culture, but he is more influenced by the tradition of American standards than Klezmer music. However, he does have something in common with Lucette van den Berg: Both share the ability to sing from the heart. Van den Berg does this through her voice and Strauss uses the keys of the piano.

As the title of his album Mostly Ballads implies, Strauss explores the form of the ballad, and it is not an easy form to master. As fellow pianist Marc Copland once remarked in the notes to his album Haunted Heart & Other Ballads: "Playing ballads is, in many ways, the ultimate challenge. A ballad is like a window into the soul of the artist."

Strauss meets the challenge and comes away as a winner because he dares to enter the emotional territory where a ballad becomes interesting. "In My Father's Song" he plays with refined sense of feeling and sensitivity somewhere between Bill Evans and Frédéric Chopin and yet there's also the charm of the pop song present.

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