Numerous artists, both famous and relatively obscure, have found a recording home on the Motéma Music imprint. Every musician on the roster, from pianist extraordinaire Monty Alexander
and veteran bassist Rufus Reid
to newcomer-turned-vocal star Gregory Porter
, has benefited from head honcho Jana Herzen's attention to detail, tireless promotional efforts and label largesse; every artist, that is, except for Herzen herself. Motéma was initially born as an outlet for Herzen's own music, but she had to hang up her guitar and curtail the singing while attending to the label's day-to-day business affairs. Now, as Motéma Music celebrates a decade of "promoting recording artists of power and distinction," Herzen has finally found time for herself.
Almost ten years separate Herzen's recorded debut, Soup's On Fire
(Motéma, 2003), and this sophomore effort, but no signs of rust are evident. She carries herself in coolly nonchalant fashion as she sings and plays with an understated sense of grace and artistry. Herzen operates in singer-songwriter-meets-mellow jazz rhythm guitarist mode, but she doesn't draw major stylistic lines in the sand. She keeps things consistently intimate, relying only on her voice and guitar, and the bass work of label mate Charnett Moffett
, who brilliantly matches Herzen's mood and artistic mannerisms throughout.
While Herzen favors originals, she isn't averse to including a few nuggets from the past that she admires. "'Tis Autumn" is Herzen's nod to vocal icon Ella Fitzgerald
and guitarist Joe Pass
, who recorded the song on Fitzgerald & Pass...Again
(Pablo, 1976) and subsequently inspired her to explore the art of jazz. She visits Chick Corea
's "Spain (I Remember)" with stunning results, pays a tribute-of-sorts to Cesaria Evora with "Sodade," and rolls along with an easy-strumming gait on "My Baby Just Cares For Me."
The remaining seven numbers all come from Herzen's pen. Her own music can be bluesy ("Secrets Are Safe With Me"), sad-eyed ("Passion Of A Lonely Heart") or upbeat, but never simple. She's well-practiced in the art of veiled sophistication. Herzen understands the "less is more" strategy better than most and she maximizes its potential on this mellow treat-of-an-album.
'Tis Autumn; Bali Holiday; Passion Of A Lonely Heart; Spain (I Remember); Earth's Heart Beats; Night Blooming Jasmine; Sodade; Secrets Are Safe With Me; My Latin Love; My Baby Just Cares For Me; Here With You.