In an odd metaphysical sense, the avant-garde always sounds the same. Abstract, startling, disconcerting, slightly opaque, sometimes impenetrable, razor-sharp, and to the right kind of ears, irresistible.
All of this characterizes jazz vocalist and songwriter Devorah Day’s debut release, Light of Day.
As with anything of this nature, it remains to be seen whether Day has arrived at her present position by traveling jazz singing’s current developmental trajectory at an accelerated pace, or in fact condensed out of jazz history, and the phantasm of her own creativity, an isolated sonic phenomena.
The first notable feature of Light of Day
is its unusual instrumentation, consisting of voice (Day), three saxophones (Marion Brown: alto, Jorge Sylvester and Booker T: alto & tenor), bass (David Colding), and Kid Lucky as guest vocal instrumentalist. The absence of both piano and drums liberates Day from the temporally segmented nature of percussive sound, as well as the standard jazz atmosphere evoked by such aural cues as snare and ride, chord progressions, and the fact that piano, bass, and drums are the most typical backing for jazz vocalists.
Led by Marion Brown’s delicate, highly freeform, and expressive voice, the collective sound established by the three saxophones is at once minimalist and tremendously effective in framing Day’s highly idiosyncratic approach to the album’s six tracks. Instead of dictating a rhythmic or melodic path for Day to navigate, the sax section, with the aid of Colding’s inventive bowing and fragmentary pizzicato interjections, encases Day in a tonally fluid, textural space. From within this, Day sends forth a collection of clustered sounds, rising and falling melodic lines, moans, subtly phrased lyrics, keens, and glissandi, all threaded together by the emotional clarity of her readings.
By presenting a balance of three standards and three original compositions, Day reveals a flexible, innovative, and personal approach. Her own compositions tend towards the extremes of free improvisation, descending into obscure realms of minimalism, replete with a blend of self-conscious wit and honest emotive displays. In turn, Day’s deconstruction and eventual reformation of the standards distills their most attenuated emotional aspects. Day transforms “Lover Man” into an abstract dirge, her voice emanating from within the piece’s ethereal instrumentation like a frozen plea from another plane. Day finds hidden coves of meaning in “Lilia” and Jobim’s “Dindi,” her experimentation nourished by the depth of the original compositions.
Taken as a whole, this album is a highly complex and astute creation. Just as all alto sax players are eventually compared to Bird, Day will soon be compared to the holy trinity: Holiday, Fitzgerald, and Vaughan. In fact, the album’s liner notes allude to as much. Day’s style, however, has little relationship to things past. In a case like this, such comparisons denote little more than the inescapability of the historical context, and they remain as significant as defining Dali as the heir of Van Gough, Monet, and Mattise. Reliance on lineage to gauge the modern, though usually employed to grant legitimacy, in fact operates as a conservative mechanism precisely opposed to the expressive expansion the avant-garde continually seeks – and that Day has achieved.