Monday, January 09, 2006

vocalists, doing it for themselves

On the 21st of december, I went to see the Kristen Cornwell Quintet at the Hopper. There'd be lots to say about that evening (such as discussing disappearing pens and socks with singer Kate Mayne; the improbable antipodean love-at-first-sight-while-on-tour story that brought Kristen to Belgium from her native Australia), but I'll keep it brief.

The concert's most interesting moments, to me, were when the band played songs that were arranged to make it sound like it was playing parts (like a pop band) rather than comping (like a jazz band, especially in the singer + band set-up. Just to be clear, they used more traditional approaches, too, because nothing needs to be rejected totally). If Ratliff's article below points to jazz loosening up its rhythms from within, this was an example of jazz evolving by applying its looseness to another form's methods. The chordally-heavy-yet-sonically-light instrumentation (Frederik Leroux's guitar and Pascal Schumacher's vibraphone formed an expansive middle) made this approach possible: a trumpet or saxophone would have made the band project outwardly more, whereas here they could create an enveloping, horizontal atmosphere. It was fairly obvious that guitar and vibes weren't locking in easily yet: one or the other would often lay out. Still, when they did hook up, it was great and refreshing. Kristen confirmed to me afterwards that this band approach was what she was after. Expanding the role of the vocalist to something more than merely a 32-bar bookend and more personal compositions were also cited as genre-renewing goals.

Two other singers that I've come across (I don't tend to make a great effort in this area, so I'm probably missing many) are Fay Victor (cf. her transformation of Rollins's "Way Out West" into a joyous personal tale of moving back to the US after several years in The Netherlands) and Mina Agossi (cf. her totally cliché-free hiphop-inflected "Well You Needn't" (also the title of her latest album))