Lebanese vocalist and bassist Donna Khalifé is a consummate jazz artist. In addition to mastering singing in all its aspects, including scatting, she is a distinctive composer and an accomplished instrumentalist. On her second release Hope Is the Thing with Feathers she leads her quintet on intriguing interpretations of standards and her own originals.
This stimulating album opens with a unique take on Rodgers and Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things." After Khalifé's chant-like vocals, which the group's expectant refrains buoy, the song takes on an electric and funky groove. As Khalifé inventively scats, the undulating instrumental vamps contribute a relaxed intimacy. With urgency and swagger, Lebanese guitarist Raffi Mandalian launches into a blistering solo which brims with rock and roll sensibilities.
Mandalian and Khalifé engage in a delightful duet on the title track which progresses to feature French saxophonist Phillipe Lopes de Sa's acerbic muscular lines and passionate wail. Throughout the diverse tempo changes, Lebanese drummer Fouad Afra propels the music with his passionate and lithe polyrhythms. Afra is perfectly suited to the task as he is comfortable in a variety of settings and genres. At the core of the piece Armenian expat keyboardist Arthur Satyan's elegant and earthy chords simmer.
An award-winning pianist, and the head of the Lebanese National Conservatory's jazz program, Satyan improvises with inventiveness throughout the record. For instance, on the haunting "Koutalon Kharsa,'" as Khalifé's prayer-like articulation of the Arabic lyrics soars with breathtaking agility, Satyan peppers the spiritual ambience with sparse chiming notes which shimmer in the enveloping silence. Khalifé enhances the captivating and otherworldly atmosphere by overdubbing herself taking the tune from eerie and serene to mystical and bright.
Khalifé explores the range of her creativity from the soft lullaby-like opening of "Ta'iran" to her mesmerizing vocal acrobatics on "Sultan." She matches these with her understated poetry on the stand up bass. Perhaps the most intriguing demonstrations of her versatility are the two versions of the Swedish folk song "Uti var Hage"; the first is almost like a Baroque aria with the melancholic sounds of Swedish Vindla String Quartet providing lush support; the second is more soulful, and features the regular quintet; Khalifé's voice mirrors Lopes de Sa's serpentine phrases before the latter launches into an exciting spontaneous embellishment of the pastoral melody.
WIth her sophomore effort, leading a new ensemble, Khalifé has topped her already brilliant debut Heavy Dance (2017, Self Produced). Both her writing and performance demonstrate increased maturity and a singularly personal style. Despite the brevity of her recording career, Khalifé is already a sui generis musician destined for widespread success both at home and abroad.
My Favorite Things; Vocalism; Koutalon Kharsa'; Hope Is the Thing with Feathers; Uti Var Hage (feat.
Vindla String Quartet); Romane; Ta'iran; Sultan; Uti Var Hage.
Donna Khalifé : voice, double bass; Philippe Lopes de Sa: saxophones; Raffi Mandalian: guitar; Arthur
Satyan: Rhodes piano; Fouad Afra: drums; Vindla String Quartet.
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