On their sophomore effort, the multinational European trio around Swiss vocalist Lucia Cadotsch
follows the band's initial instinct of organically dissecting and rearranging old favorites of the respective band members. This time around the trio is expanded by English keyboartdist Kit Downes
' occasional organ embellishments and Lucy Railton's additions of odd melodic cello lines to conceptually intricate arrangements. The group's nearly-chordless and drum-free approach is able to conjure intimate spaces and fragile constructs while at the same time capturing not only the essence, but also the harmonic breadth of each composition, at times taking on the expansive shape of a large ensemble.
In light of such sparse instrumentation, one could assume that the singer's voice would stand at the center and in the forefront of each moment and every tune on the record. And yet, though the lyrical content of the selected and mostly American songs does play an important role, Lucia Cadotsch's voice rather submits to the group interplay instead of standing on top of it. Otis Sandsjö
's often fragmented saxophone interjections and Petter Eldh
's percussive yet highly melodic bass contributions are simultaneously the backdrop and
the shared leaders performing a balanced mix of folk songs, standards and more spiritual and progressive pieces from Duke Ellington
to experimentalist composer Kurt Weill.
Throughout the 9-tune set, Cadotsch's voice neither proves intrusive nor does it go unnoticed, seemingly capable of adapting to any wallpaper imaginable. A soft yet somber quality to it, her singing dives into the minimal instrumental structures with emphatic whispers and animate hums that would seem equally appropriate in a bossa-nova context with Stan Getz
and Joao Gilberto
Ellington's "Azure" is divided into little melodic and rhythmic figures, first dispersed over bass and sax in unison, later traded for a more improvisational and intuitive rubato. From the beginning, Downes' subtle organ lines quietly impose themselves into the ensemble sound of the four tracks on which the ECM recording artist appearsseemingly having always been part of the respective composition. Like him, each musician takes to their role naturally and holistically, condensing several functions into one. Eldh's bass more than once simulates the occasional brush stroke or hi-hat hit, as is prominently the case in the medley-mash up of Tony Williams' "There Comes A Time" and the Bob Haggart-composed "What's New."
A dark quality with an equally beguiling and chilling flavor dwells in the depths of the restlessly atmospheric interplay of the band and lingers for the duration of the set. It is found reflected in the reverb-drenched deep ends of the organ towards the end of Ned Washington and Dimitri Tiomkin-penned "Wild is the Wind," as well as in the rushing bass steps and dim saxophone squeals of the same compositionfamously interpreted by Nina Simon
as well as David Bowie
. Short dissonant outbursts on the traditional "Black is The Color of my True Love's Hair" paired with Berthold Brecht's bleak lyrics on the Kurt Weill piece "Ballad Of The Drowned Girl" support the ominous impression.
But where there's darkness there's also light. Light that emanates from Cardotsch's choir-like overdubs in Brian Eno
's "By This River" or "Lani Hall's "So Long." Light that is mirrored by the high-spirited interplay on display or the pristine sonic details of the production as well as detail to the inspired arrangements. Modern, traditional, avant-garde and old-school all at once, Speak Low II
seems to dig into a musical bag without a bottom and comes up with all of its contents, carefully assembled to form a refined and musically complete whole.
Azure; I Think It's Going To Rain Today; What's New / There Comes A Time; Wild Is The Wind; By This River; Black Is The
Color Of My True Love's Hair; Ballad Of The Drowned Girl; So Long; Speak Low.