Daniel Meron: Sky Begins

Dave Wayne By

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Though pianist / composer Daniel Meron gets top billing on Sky Begins, it's vocalist Maia Karo who steals the show here. Yes, Sky Begins is a vocal jazz album. But it's a quite striking one. Meron's tunes are by no means typical jazz tunes, and Karo isn't a typical jazz singer. Though the album is all-acoustic (save for some subtle electronic effects on a few of the tunes), much of it has a distinctly caffeinated, almost rockish energy. Meron's compositions really come across as songs yet, they are multi-sectioned, with plenty of room for solos; largely by Meron, a notably deft and engaging improviser. The closest musical parallel would be Christine Correa's recent work with Frank Carlberg (albeit less avant-garde and stage-y). In places, Sky Begins sounds a bit like a de-Latinized version of Chick Corea's original Return to Forever band with Flora Purim (though Ms. Karo's vocal style bears little resemblance to Ms. Purim's). The chunky rhythms and Karo's vocal phrasing also bring to mind the vocal tracks from Bill Bruford's Gradually Going Tornado (1980, EG Records).

Sky Begins also benefits hugely from the colorful and propulsive rhythm section work of Jimmy Macbride and Noam Wiesenberg. MacBride, in particular, pulls no punches. His snappy drums really light a fire under "Fish in the Air," "Best Enemy," and "Notes from a Journey." It's rare to hear a drummer dig into vocal jazz with such obvious relish, but it's one of the things that makes Sky Begins stand out from the pack.

Karo has a strong, unaffected alto voice that's really easy to listen to. Her phrasing seems rooted in musical theater rather than jazz, and it came as no surprise to learn that her main gig is acting. She really sounds like the protagonist in these tunes, and one wonders who wrote the lyrics. The credits give no clue. Perhaps it was Karo or perhaps it was Meron himself? Anyway, the lyrics throughout Sky Begins, especially those on the first five tracks, have a depth and wit that is all too rare in jazz these days. "You Give Me Love" is a bit less interesting musically and lyrically, though it's the one tune on Sky Begins that sounds most like typical vocal jazz. Oddly, the two brief instrumentals—"Secret Room" and "Water Ends"—are slow-paced, through-composed, almost lugubrious piano-bass duets that seem utterly out of step with the sparkling energy of the rest of the album.

Track Listing: Sleepless Nights; Fish In The Air; Notes From A Journey; Like Water; Best Enemy; Secret Room; You Give Me Love; Water Ends.

Personnel: Maia Karo: vocals; Daniel Meron: piano; Noam Wiesenberg: bass; Jimmy MacBride: drums.

Title: Sky Begins | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit Records

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