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Suzi Stern: Suzi Stern: Romancing the Dark

Geannine Reid By

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When a jazz singer is able to combine skills as a poet, composer, arranger and singer, what type of music is the result? Folk/Jazz/World; but of course! That is the underlying theme throughout Suzi Stern's CD, Romancing the Dark. The Austin based singer has a diverse history of collaborations, working with artist such as: Joe Henderson, Denny Zeitlin,David Friesen, Jerry Hahn, Leroy Vinnegar,Jessica Williams,Sheila Jordan, Jay Clayton, Peggy Stern, Stefan Karlsson, Alan Jones, Randy Porter, John Stowell, and beyond. Stern also boasts a library of seven CDs as a leader and is a published poet and lyricist. Stern has penned lyrics to numerous contemporary and classic jazz compositions such as Denny Zeitlin's "Quiet Now," Joe Henderson's "Black Narcissus" and Joshua Redman's "Hide and Seek," which have been recorded by artists worldwide. Stern's lyrics have been published in the Bill Evans Fake Book from Hal Leonard Publications.

Romancing the Dark contains eleven selections, nine of which are Stern originals, one penned by bassist Paul Unger, "Sleepwalking Girl" and one standard, "Haunted Heart." Stern composed, orchestrated and wrote the lyrics for nine of the selections and has compiled a varying set of instruments for the project. Each selection has its own unique instrumentation and orchestration, which provides the perfect emotional setting for Stern's clear voice to articulate her storylines. "Romancing The Dark" starts with George Oldziey's fluid accordion lines that flow into an accented off beat chordal march pattern that clarinetist John Mills blows a haunting melody over. The two are joined by the marching snare work of Steve Schwelling's drums to complete the intro for Sterns vocal entrance. "Beautiful" is the first word of Stern's lyrics and that sums up the mood and overall presentation of the composition. Stern's singing style is clear and accurate; her lyrics are poetic in nature and give just enough information for the listener to follow the storyline while still leaving room for the imagination to fill in the details. Oldziey also plays piano on the track and Mike Sailors adds trumpet, while Randy Zimmerman's trombone provides a nice brass pad behind the vocals and the fills from Mills. Stern composes and orchestrates a masterful interlude with the three horn players playing counterpoint to one another leading us to the last chorus and verse which continues the three horn writing behind Stern's vocals. After a poetic pause on "Self-Indulgence Your Game," Stern joins the three horns with a series of vocal scats that culminate in the ending statement.

As before mentioned, the varying instrumentation and Stern's ability to clearly articulate a melody over creative orchestrations is the key element to the success of Romancing the Dark. "Sounds Are Louder In The Dark" finds Stern's voice paired with a string quartet and percussion. On this track Stern collaborates with Oldziey, who provides a stunning string arrangement for Stern to sing with. The ballad "Hymn" is colored with piano, bass, percussion, guitar, violin and a children's choir. The entire first half of the song is a rubato phrasing of voice, violin, arco bass and piano. The Children's voices and percussion are added later to build the selection to a logical climax and ending. "Deeper Quiet" is another ballad that features more wonderful music and lyrics by Stern and spot on string orchestration from Oldziey. Sailor's muted trumpet opens the selection over a lush string quartet chordal pad with Oldziey's piano chords and single note fills rounding out the space, these intimate moments really expose Stern's voice and allow the listener to hear the control and richness of her singing. "Moth" finds Stern's voice impeccably singing each phrase of the melody with a new orchestrative color, sometimes she harmonizes with herself, other times she sings in perfect unison with the piano or in counterpoint to the guitar. Guitarist Bruce Saunders provides a very nice nylon strung guitar solo, followed by more counterpoint with the melody and violin. Stern's elegant singing, music and lyrics are presented in an array of colors and instrumental settings that result in a unique and poignant listen. What type of music as a poet, composer, arranger and singer make? Folk/Jazz/World; or more specifically, creative music! That is the underlying theme throughout Suzi Stern's CD, Romancing the Dark.

Track Listing: Firefly; Romancing the Dark; Sounds Are Louder in the Dark; Hymn; Air; Tango for Tina; Sleepwalking Girl; Deeper Quiet; Moth; Haunted Heart; Snow Explorers.

Personnel: Suzi Stern: voice, percussion; George Oldziey: piano, accordion, percussion; Paul Unger: acoustic bass; James Anderson: violin; Steve Schwelling: drums, percussion; Douglas Harvey: cello; James Desautels: violin; Helen Bravenec: violin; Jason Elinoff: viola; Mike Sailors: trumpet; John Mills: clarinet; Randy Zimmerman: trombone; Mitch Watkins: guitar; Bruce Saunders: guitar; Kris Afflerbaugh: acoustic bass; Wayne Salzmann: drums.

Title: Suzi Stern: Romancing the Dark | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Self Produced


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