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Elisabeth Lohninger: Songs of Love and Destruction

C. Michael Bailey By

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Austrian-American Elisabeth Lohninger is emerging as a major creative force in jazz vocals. Her previous release, The Only Way Out is Up (Lofish, 2007), was well-received and displayed a talent both fully formed and evolving. Her first recording, Beneath The Surface (Lofish, 2004) was noted for the singer's "stylistic fluency and versatility."

Versatile might be the key operative in describing Lohninger. Polyglot in language and jazz styles, she is at home in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and, of course, German. She sings all languages in a beautifully accent-less, sensuously assured alto that commands the attention from beginning to end. She is as ready to perform an original composition as a time-honored standard, tossing both off with the same ease Goethe did verse. Her skill as a composer ranks among the best currently recording. All of this adds up to a fertile and certain creativity.

Lohninger's Songs of Love and Destruction is a chronological and cultural updating of what Theo Bleckmann was doing with his brilliantly conceived Berlin: Songs of Love and War, Peace and Exile (Winter & Winter, 2008). Where Bleckmann made a historic panorama of prewar Berlin with the music of Hanns Eisler, Bertolt Brecht, and Kurt Weill, Lohninger turns the panorama introspectively, assembling songs of love and loss from Tin Pan Alley and the Lost Generation to The Beatles and her own 21st Century musings.

Lohninger accomplishes this impressive feat with pianist Bruce Barth, Bassist Evan Gregor, and drummer Jordan Perlson plus three very thoughtfully chosen guest artists. Trumpeter Ingrid Jensen blows muted on K.D. Lang's "Save Me" and flugelhorn the original "Away and Away Again." Her tone and playing is conversational, possessing an indefinable dimension not found in her male counterparts (regardless of what is thought politically correct). Jensen's dry tone is a comfortable match to Lohninger's sophisticated and sexy alto.

Violinist Christian Howes joins the singer on four pieces, principle among them MD Loynaz/Lohninger's "Si Me Quieres," which Howes also arranged for strings. Light and airy, the piece recalls a 1950s Havana breeze, Hemingway drinking Daiquiris at the Ambos Mundos bar, beneath waving ceiling fans. Barth's piquant piano, mixed with Howes' reedy fiddle, casts a powerful Caribbean spell. Tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin spices up the windy Beatles ballad "Here, There, and Everywhere" with his muscular, throaty horn.

Lohninger is generous with her fellow musicians, but shines like a diamond when she restricts herself to intimate formats. Cy Coleman's "With Every Breath I Take," accompanied only by Barth, is incandescent. "I Fall In Love Too Easily" could not be further from Chet Baker while still redolent of his Midwestern phrasing. In a reductionist trend that includes Lawrence Lebo and Cynthia Felton, Lohninger draws every bit of creativity from her fine trio, spinning platinum suture for mending broken hearts.

"No Moon at All" recalls Le Quintette du Hot Club de France, on tour and appearing at the Cabaret Berlin circa 1930. Lohniger's complex "A Little Bit Tricky" is the disc highlight, swinging with a nuclear centrifugal momentum, the singer sardonic and delightful.

Track Listing: River; Save Me; Si Me Quieres; Here, There, and Everywhere; Alone Together; With Every Breath I Take; Away and Away Again; La Puerta; I Fall in Love To Easily; No Moon At All; A Little Bit Tricky; If I Should Lose You.

Personnel: Elisabeth Lohninger: vocals, arrangements; Bruce Barth: piano; Evan Gregor: bass; Ingrid Jensen: trumpet, flugelhorn (2, 7); Christian Howes: violin (2, 3, 10, 12); Donny McCaslin: tenor saxophone (4, 8).

Title: Songs of Love and Destruction | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Lofish Music

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