There's good poetry about flowers and there's "roses are red, violets are blue." But if one isn't into floral fawning, even the quality stuff sounds saccharine. A similar case exists with vocalist Jeannette Lindstrom's In The Middle Of This Riddle, which in a better world would be emitting from speakers at megachain bookstores instead of Norah Jones and her folk-jazz imitators. Lindstrom's lyrics and instrumental arrangements go beyond mass market safety by mixing various jazz forms with underpinnings of neo(fusion), soul and classic folk. But it's still a soothing listen, meaning original lyrical topics and cutting-edge instrumentals aren't strong points.
Lindstrom's sixth release as a leader during a decade-long recording career features all original compositions and instrumentation ranging from the simplest of single-note piano backings to discordant Broadway-like ensembles. Many are basic rhythm sections with an extra contemporary-edged voice such as a trumpet or organ (the latter, for instance, converting a '70s poppish "Here" into Jimmy Smith-like funk/fusion for a moment).
Lindstrom's compositions cover cliched topics such as love and struggle, but with less repetition and more vagueness (or impressionism, if one prefers) than bubblegum pop. None of the lyrics feel especially personal, especially given that the linear notes offer little insight beyond the words themselves.
"Going Up" is a highlight with a combination of West Coast cool and the emotional turmoil of a dark Broadway moment. Pianist Daniel Karlsson cuts through it with a post bop solo that, like the two-minute song, is all too brief. "From This Tower" is aggressively paced as well, features one of trumpeter Staffan Svensson's better performances in an extended run of quick licks reminiscent of Miles Davis tackling "So What" at higher speeds, giving Lindstrom a chance to scat a bit in a relatively narrow range.
Her vocals in general stay tuneful while wandering a bit high or low from middle range without going to extremes. Her upper range probably is her strength, heard on both lilting pieces such as "When Things Get Real" and soulful musings such as "Be There." Things don't work as well when the instrumentation gets too dense, such as the horn-and-string ensemble that overpowers her on "You Could Rely On Me."
Such moments of weakness are rare on In The Middle Of This Riddle, but there's also little true inspiration. Not every album has to be or can be a masterpiece, but even an above-average effort in this genre needs some sort of special quality to really stand out. This doesn't quite have it. Like a nice gift card it can be instantly enjoyed, but also quickly forgotten when the next envelope is opened.
Always; From This Tower; The World; You Could Rely On Me; End; Leaf; Too; Going Up;
Here; When Things Get Bad; Be There; Too (Take 1).
Jeanette Lindstrom: vocals, piano, claviola; Staffan Svensson: trumpet; Peter Nylander:
electric and acoustic guitars; Daniel Karlsson: piano, keyboards, vibraphone; Christian
Spering: double bass; Peter Danemo: drums, percussion; Jonas Lindgren: violin; Orjan
Hogberg: viola; Mattias Hellden: cello.
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