Vocalist and composer Louise Alexandra's Today
requires a bit of unpacking. In 2012, a wunderkind polymath named Louise Van Aarsen
released a debut recording, Destiny
receiving positive critical attention. Known as Dr. Louise Koopman in her day job as Sr. Research Scientist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and in the Boston biotech scene, the singer Van Aarsen proved richly multifaceted. At the time a Dutch expatriate, the singer sought the counsel of another singer for training, the incomparable Rebecca Parris
(My Foolish Heart
, Koch Jazz, 2001). Supremely gifted, Parris nurtured van Aarsen throughout the making of Destiny
, remaining a large presence in the singer's life thereafter. Destiny
collects music composed and sung by van Aarsen. It is mature music, grown up music for grownups. Her touchstones are time ("Lately"), love ("Destiny," "Open End") and loss and desire ("Without You"). She is completely comfortable singing of the familial: marriage, children, and happiness. Life centers are buffered in plush arrangements tending toward the southern hemisphere, exacted with a hyper-produced contemporary jazz production. Van Aarsen's voice is well trained and appealing with a solid confidence and command. The influence of Parris is most apparent in the disc's ballad content, her presence more suggestion than command, such a teacher she was.
With regards to the music world, eight years between releases once was an eternity. In real-life terms it is often but a blink with a tear. Between 2012 and today, a great deal changed for Louise van Aarsen. Today, she finds herself back in her Dutch homeland, continuing her science career in Translational Immuno-Oncology at Genmab. In the meantime, she has raised three daughters, while continuing to work with Rebecca Parris between continents on a project that was to become the presently considered Today
, under her new artist name Louise Alexandra, only to be interrupted and shelved by the unexpected death
of Parris in 2018.
After Parris's passing, Alexandra retreated and regrouped, assembling the tracks recorded between 2015 and 2018 under the musical direction of Parris at Peter Kontrimas' PBS Studios. Pianist Doug Hammer doubled his role, providing arrangements with Louise Alexandra and Parris, with final mixing and mastering of the final product. The results can only be considered an evolution from one firmly established place to the next higher order of the same. On Today
, Alexandra retains her favor of the Latin clave, seasoning the disc liberally with that humid drive. Except, without the humidity. Alexandra's is a heart informing the head, one that is cerebral as it is organically creative. The singer's alto voice is a deliverer of a punctilious tone that is knowingly resigned without a victim temperament. In her lyrics, Alexandra looks forward and backward like a genius Janus in triumph. She displays this amply on the contemporary-tinged "Chain of Life," the hectic and balladic "Busy Days," and the keenly sharp "Rewind" where the realization of loss is tempered with the knowledge that "if" is only a word that passes not into the future. She propels her lyrics with serial rhymes always carefully selected. The instrumentation is rendered with grace, overall, allowing Mike Turk's deft and slippery harmonica considerably greater room than the same on Destiny
Alexandra includes thoughtfully presented standards as two diptychs and one standalone. "Nature Boy" is cleverly coupled with "Everything Must Change," creating an integrated whole where the shaman admonishes with the obvious that the present cannot remain static while the change is often slowly realized. Bill Vint's tenor saxophone adds an air of wistfulness and knowing. More challenging and profound is the mashup of John Coltrane's "Naima" with Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark." The Coltrane melodic line is reduced to an ether blown through the performance by Vint's tart alto saxophone (its tone in search of Paul Desmond's spirit). The collection's coda, Bert Kaempfert and Milt Gabler's Nat King Cole vehicle "L-O-V-E" is a duet with Alexandra's daughter Mae van Aarsen (who was also responsible for the cover photograph and graphic design), who more than holds her own with her mother. What could have been a syrupy indulgence is rather a triumph of the mother-child experience, swinging with a whiplash momentum.
Alexandra does not limit her vocal generosity with only her blood kin. She also shares with her spiritual relatives, vocalists sharing the tutelage of Rebecca Parris. "Today" and the jaunty Supremes dream "Try Something New" include and feature Miriam Waks (So Many Stars
, Alberto Pibiri Music, 2020) who tempers Alexandra's built-in seriousness and determination with a sassy reverence. On "The Only Answer" Alexandra is joined by Debbie Lane ( This Happy Madness
, Self Produced, 2015) and Sue Sheriff ( Better Than Anything
, Self Produced, 2016). The pair work well with Alexandra, betraying a solid friendship among them. The crowning achievement of the disc is the ballad "You Are In Everything." The piece begins and ends with a metronome clicking, that directional heartbeat of musical constancy. In between, Alexandra observes and personifies the spirit of music and memory while Vint accents with his seamless tenor saxophone. A certain liturgy reveals itself at the end of the coda metronome, a barely heard voice speaking with love and command. This is no ghost, but a guiding spirit and memory of goodness and grace: just like all of Today
Today; Chain of Life; Nature Boy / Everything Must Change; Busy
Days; Until You;Desafinado; Rewind; One Foot In Front Of The
Other; Daima / Skylark; The Only Answer; Try Something New;
You Are In Everything; L-O-V-E.