A departure from Thana Alexa's first album Ode to Heroes (Harmonia Mundi/Jazz Village, 2015), ONA is also rooted in jazz, but it showcases Alexa's use of her voice as both a lyrical and experimental instrument. Commencing immediately on the title tune, this mostly original material features arrangements in various combinations of atmospheric, electronic soundscapes and exotic instrumental textures, complementing a voice which enchants as often through its feather-light air as its full-throated tones. Co-produced with master drummer Antonio Sanchezwith whom Alexa has collaborated before, most conspicuously on The Meridien Suite (Cam Jazz, 2015)this record is at once a statement of artistic and personal purpose.
Equally importantly, ONA (the word for "she" in Alexa's native Croatian language) comprises a musical hybrid which is difficult if not impossible to readily categorize (of which its colorful cover graphics are a direct reflection). Yet the record is all the more alluring for that challenge, arriving in the form of ten tracks, the shortest of which runs just over five minutes. The aforementioned opener runs over eight minutes in duration, while "Pachamama," showcasing Regina Carter on violin, extends just past that mark by three minutes. The outpouring of imagination here also includes Staceyann Chin, whose spoken word interlude on "The Resistance" not only carries explicit sentiments, but also functions as a sonic novelty equal to the intricate acoustic guitar and voice interwoven on "You Taught Me."
Those passages are just two of the purest instances of ONA's superb audio dynamics. Grammy Award-winning audio engineer Pete Karam (Pat Metheny, Gary Burton and Eliane Elias, among others) not only recorded the bulk of the record, but also mixed it in cooperation with Alexa and Sanchez, ultimately mastering the album to preserve both the expanse and depth of its audio. Even the quietest points make for heady listening experiences, such as "Set Free"essentially a vocal-piano duet between Alexa and pianist Carmen Staafwhile "Teardrop" is equal parts intoxicating and mesmerizing as it plays off multiple vocals with Jordan Peters' electric guitar (which also shines on "Animal Instinct"). And on "Cassandra," keyboardist Staaf gets into some knotty interplay with the rhythm section of Sanchez and bassist Matt Brewer.
Further confounding expectations and stifling preconceptions is this album's vigorous, uplifting conclusion, Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." Still, as much of a sharp curveball as this cover represents, it ultimately stands as a rousing microcosm of the daring ingenuity within Thana Alexa's ONA.
ONA; The Resistance; Pachamama; Set Free; You Taught Me; Teardrop; Cassandra; He Said She Said; Animal Instinct; Everybody Wants to Rule the World.
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