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Album Review

Celeste: Not Your Muse

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Celeste: Not Your Muse
The mega-concert staged in front of London's Buckingham Palace on June 4, 2022 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee was not an obvious save-the-date event for British jazz fans or non-monarchists. It was, however, brilliantly staged, and worth watching for that reason alone. And as it turned out, it contained three-and-a-half minutes of transcendent song which eclipsed top-of-the-bill appearances by Queen, Elton John and Diana Ross.

The song was the Louis Armstrong hit "What A Wonderful World," which, as AAJers who read the small print may know, was co-written by John Coltrane's Impulse producer Bob Thiele (as George Douglas), or possibly, to be legalistically precise, which Thiele / Douglas was credited with co-writing. Whatever. At Buck House, the song was delivered by the British-American singer Celeste, accompanied by a choir, a string orchestra, a dozen session musicians, and film composer Hans Zimmer, who arranged it.

Celeste's soaring, gospel-inflected performance was not only a musical triumph in its own right. More than that, her delivery transformed the lyric into a protest song about the ongoing rape of the Earth's ecology, and did so without changing one word. Check the YouTube clip below.

Whoever made the inspired decision to partner Zimmer and Celeste on the song is not known. There is a good chance, however, that whoever they were was familiar with Celeste's gospel-based "Hear My Voice," which she performed on the soundtrack of the 2020 film The Trial Of The Chicago 7 and for which she was nominated for a 2021 Academy Award for Best Original Song.

"Hear My Voice" is included on Celeste's debut album, Not Your Muse. Unfortunately, "What A Wonderful World" came along too late. The album, sad to say, is a sprawling, twenty-one track, seventy-eight minute, multi-producer leviathan which tries to be all things to all listeners. And so, inevitably, falls on its face. The material, all but one track of which was written or co-written by Celeste, variously positions her as a jazz singer (at its most intimate, her style and voice stands comparison with Billie Holiday), a pop chanteuse, and an R&B diva (shades of Aretha Franklin and the Raeletts' Margie Hendrix).

The jazz-based content is superb. Jon Batiste produced and performs on one track. British wunderkinds, tenor saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi and trombonist Misha Fox perform on two others, and on-off Andy Sheppard collaborator, keyboard player Steve Lodder, is at the Hammond organ on "Hear My Voice." If only the album's playing time had been cut down to forty minutes and the jazz content bumped up, or the album turned into a R&B outing—one or the other, but not both—and we would be looking at a success rather than a curate's egg.

Track Listing

Ideal Woman; Strange (Edit); Tonight Tonight; Stop This Flame; Tell Me Something I Don't Know; Not Your Muse; Beloved; Love Is Back; A Kiss; The Promise; A Little Love; Some Goodbyes Come With Hellos; Father's Son; Lately; Both Sides Of The Moon; Strange; Unseen; In The Summer Of My Life; It's Alright; Hear My Voice; I'm Here.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Celeste: vocals; Kaidi Akinnibi: tenor saxophone; Misha Fox: trombone; Steve Lodder: Hammond organ; Jon Batiste: piano; and a cast of thousands.

Album information

Title: Not Your Muse | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Polydor Records

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