Sunday, June 18, 2006

kristen cornwell quintet @ Sounds - 16/06/2006

I saw this band back in December, but have only just realised I never posted the draft I wrote at the time. I'll do that shortly. The band Kristen fronted (Pascal Schumacher on vibraphone, Frederik Leroux on guitar, Christophe Devisscher on bass) was the same, except that regular drummer Jonas Burgwinkel was there instead of sub Jens Duppe.

After warming up on "I'll Remember April," a voice/bass duo opened "What A Little Moonlight Can Do." Can a voice/bass duet not sound good? As if to really prove that point, a couple of songs later, they did another one on "These Clouds Are Heavy" (or something similar), which, if I understood correctly, is a Rilke poem Kurt Elling set to a Brubeck/Desmond tune. It was verbose, but suited Cornwell, a singer who projects a great deal of confidence. A more original arrangement was that of the concert-ending Joni Mitchell cover, for which the singer was backed only by a very active Burgwinkel. The other instruments appeared only for brief solos that broke the song up into sections. Again, Cornwell's self-confidence (and the sure technical foundation it's built upon) was evident.

She was also regularly featured as a composer, having written almost half the songs played. On "Billie Goat," she simply scatted the wordless melody and let the soloists dig in, which they did, forcefully. The first-set-ending "Frangipani" focused on a powerful and textured polyrhythmic groove. "Lies" was dubbed "an anti-love song:" over a rock/funk backbeat, she sang "The more I love you, the less you have to say." Even on "I Know You By Heart," a pro-love song, the lyrics displayed firm resolve to seize the opportunity, rather than be merely swept away by Prince Charming.

One of this band's characteristics is that the two harmonic instruments play more of a melodic-textural role than a traditional harmonic-rhythmic one. On "River," for example, Cornwell was resolutely less athletic and more focused on a narrower and lower range, which allowed Schumacher and Leroux to create a warm and enveloping atmosphere. A similar, pop-inflected approach was taken on Suzanne Vega's "Calypso" and "Distant Skies," another Cornwell original. Maybe this isn't quite the right reference (and certainly not in terms of voice, more in terms of harmony and feeling), but a lot of the tunes made me think of a post-Cassandra Wilson context.

The second set started with "Love For Sale," and all the misgivings I have about that song came back, perhaps especially because she didn't vamp it up all. That said, the line "Who will buy?" was, troublingly, blared in the manner of a paper boy on the street corner. I didn't get a chance to ask Kristen what she made of singing this song, though.