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Lorraine Feather

Carl L. Hager By

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Tierney Sutton wrote me after she heard the new CD, and told me that in working with Hubert Laws she has come to realize that her voice is more like a flute than any other instrument, and that she felt mine was most like a violin.
Like her contemporary Kurt Elling, Lorraine Feather is that rare jazz vocalist and lyricist who reinvents herself with every project. With the February 2012 release of Tales of the Unusual (Jazzed Media) comes a new self so different that casual fans may not recognize her at first. Some might feel challenged or mystified by these ambitious lyrical statements, but the seductive textures are certain to lure them into the eerie world where Feather embraces life's most entertainingly bizarre and aberrant oddities—and has a lot of fun while she's at it.

This could turn out to be the busiest year of her life. Currently working with young piano phenom Stephanie Trick in a duo project aptly dubbed Nouveau Stride, the Grammy-nominated lyricist/singer and her petite musical partner are preparing to reintroduce the very roots of jazz to jaded 21st Century ears, with a hip, feminine, modernized version of that explosive energy first brought to us by thick-fingered men who were brightening the dark days of the Great Depression.

All About Jazz: The collaborations with your now-familiar partners Eddie Arkin, Russell Ferrante and Shelly Berg have produced some very sophisticated compositions for Tales of the Unusual. How did you come up with the dramatic piano intro to "The Hole in the Map," for example?

Lorraine Feather: I asked Russell if he could do a piano intro before the entrance of the baião groove that Mike Shapiro started the tune with, something that set up the mood or spirit of the story. Of course, I never would have thought of doing what Russ did, which was like the accompaniment to a silent movie—but now I can't imagine the track without it, or the album starting another way.

The "Back in the comfort of Devon" section—in which Percy Fawcett is drinking tea with his family but already starting to fantasize about returning to the Amazon—used to float over the same drum groove. At the session, Russ thought it might be interesting to stop there and go into a kind of string quartet mode, which the band worked up, and it did make it more special.

AAJ: Your lyric writing on Tales of the Unusual seems to continue a logical progression that began with Language (Jazzed Media, 2008) and Ages (Jazzed Media, 2010). Thematically, they may be as different as can be, but do you feel they are united by some kind of common thread?

LF: It's hard for me to evaluate the lyrics objectively. Eddie has said they seem about the lonely or disenfranchised, lately. I guess that's true. He also commented after the album was done, "It's as if we wrote each other's songs," meaning that musically, everything seemed united to him; though none of the composers listened to each others' work along the way. The fact that the songs were written mostly with my ongoing collaborators makes a big difference. Doing it from scratch allows you a lot of rhythmic and melodic freedom, and I think that we are continuing to evolve as partners.

AAJ: The musicians you worked with on this recording are getting very comfortable with each other. How do you inspire such sensitivity in players like guitarist Grant Geissman or bassist Mike Valerio?

LF: Ha, well, it's nice to think I do, but those guys are very sensitive and smart in any musical situation. Valerio is famous for saying what's on his mind and sometimes will seem to brood about something he feels is not yet right, even when everyone else is smiling. When we were recording "To Live Another Day," Grant disagreed with everyone else about the take we should use. He said something like, "That first take sounds as if we were discovering the song and I like that. The second one sounds like we've been playing it in a lounge every night for 10 years." We wound up going with his choice. When we were recording "Off-the-Grid Girl," Mike Shapiro looked at me and knew I was feeling overwhelmed by the track. He suggested the approach be less hard-hitting and more sneaky—or something like that. It was immediately perfect. I thanked him later and he said, "The way we were playing it at first, it didn't have the 'sickness.'"

AAJ: You mean the dark blues feel of the final version?

LF: I think it is a bit ominous and witchy-sounding, which is where that comment might have come from. Carlos Del Rosario, one of my co-producers (Geoff Gillette is the other) sometimes refers to it as "Morticia's Lament." But also, Eddie said that he always intended it to be bluesy more in the Gershwin sense, like his Prelude #2.

AAJ: Your use of violinist Charlie Bisharat is inspired. How did that happen?

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