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Lola Danza: Life of Luxury

C. Michael Bailey By

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My inspiration is really based on my daily adventures in this life. Being in complete awe of our existence, not being afraid to explore taboos, looking at life from different angles.
Singer/composer Lola Danza has a pan-cultural and artistic vision expanding well beyond the traditional singer's role as performer and interpreter, though these facets do exist large in her art. The singer began a personal trend on Vision Quest (Evolver, 2005) employing a rhythm section of only two bassists. This format, with an occasional splash added by brass or reeds, produced a free, three- dimensional space within which to sing.

Danza's beyond the avant-garde Live Free (Evolver, 2009) was exactly that, a freely expressed vocal recording taped live with a quartet at Boston's Ryles' Club with a group that had never performed together until the recording—a high wire act that takes what trumpeter Miles Davis did with Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) a step further. Danza flexed herself even further on her ensemble recording, Janya (Evolver, 2011). Her singing and songwriting are not exactly jazz, world or new age, and then again they are all of these, as well as a respectful nod to her and her group's rich Korean musical and spiritual heritage.

Danza's latest project is a vocal/electronica pairing with programmer/guitarist James Dellatacoma.

All About Jazz: Freedom and drama loom large in your music, whether as a solo act or in your group Janya. What and who inspire this?

Lola Danza: I think as artists we sometimes forget that living the artist life is a real luxury. My inspiration is really based on living—my daily adventures in this life. Being in complete awe of our existence, not being afraid to explore taboos, looking at life from different angles; by creating my life and my own reality, through that living, is where my art, my music exists.

AAJ: Your recording Vision Quest (Evolver, 2005) and part of your recording The Island (Evolver, 2012) employed two bassists as your harmony and rhythm sections. The results are potent and compelling when combined with your voice and vision. What led you to try this unusual format?

LD: I love the bass. And I love the sound of strings, of orchestras. I wanted to be in an ocean of sound that would just envelop the voice. And bass has this beautiful richness and sexiness to it. I feel uninhibited by the bass. I can play around and stretch with my phrasing, because there's so much room/space harmonically and rhythmically. And that's what I was looking for: space. And when you're working with John Lockwood, Sean Conly and Garth Stevenson, they make everything so easy and effortless because they're such great players.

AAJ: What musicians or performers most influenced your thinking?

LD: My mentor and drummer Nat Mugavero; my fellow musicians—by talking with them about music and hearing their projects. My voice teacher Evelyn Reynolds. I could list all my favorite musicians—but that would get cliché, as it includes all the jazz greats and others that everyone names. James Dellatacoma, Fung ChernHwei, Ben Gerstein, Sean Conly, Mat Maneri, Bob Moses, Ornette Coleman, Bill Laswell and John Lockwood—these are some musicians that I exchange ideas with and their work has inspired me.

AAJ: Your ensemble Janya made some provocative musical waves last year with its eponymous release. Do you have any plans for the group in the near future?

LD: With Janya, the inspiration for that music is Korean Shamanism, communing with the divine and me connecting with this other part of myself, my heritage. Janya is the beginning of my Korean musical pilgrimage; where it will end up, I don't know. I plan to go to Korea in February of 2013 for performance as well as some field research. We are very fortunate to have gotten to tour, play the Kennedy Center and perform at some incredible venues for many beautiful and open-minded audiences.

AAJ: Your most recent recording, The Island, has been called your "standards" recording. When approaching standards from your vantage point of freedom and drama, how do you choose which to cover? What should a standard possess to capture your attention?

LD: I always remember what Anita O'Day said about how she picked her material. She said something to the effect of that she could only sing the songs that "spoke" to her. And that's exactly how I pick my music. Each standard that I sing on The Island is really a milestone in my life. I felt like I could finally sing "Lover Man," and do it justice at this point in my life, because I understand true loneliness, the dream of love, having loved and then losing it—its joy and devastation. All the songs I chose for that album have been lived—that's why I chose them.

AAJ: The majority of your music to the present has been very organic. September finds you joining forces with James Dellatacoma, guitarist and programmer, making some decidedly inorganic (electronic) music. Is this a logical direction or are their other influences pointing you this way?

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