Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Elisabeth Lohninger, Songs of Love and Destruction

How can you tell when a singer is a "jazz singer?" There are a number of factors, in any combination. A few: 1.) He or she "messes with" the tune, adding scat, rephrasing and/or recomposing part of the melody. 2.) The accompanying players play jazz type solos and/or accompaniment. 3.) The singer's repertoire includes songs associated with the jazz tradition.

Those are some key elements. Number one is probably indispensable; number two is important; number three is often the case, but does not define the situation. Things have changed in the last few decades, so there's no telling from the repertoire.

Let's turn, then, to a singer with a new CD out: Elisabeth Lohninger and her Songs of Love and Destruction (LoFish 079). The repertoire? Sure, she does some A. Songbook standards, like "No Moon at All," "Alone Together," those sorts of songs. But then she does Joni Mitchell's beautiful "River," K. D. Laing's "Save Me," the Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere." She also does a couple of her originals. In short, she is not a cabaret jazz clone in terms of what she tackles.

The musicians? They have the jazz thing happening. Pianist Bruce Barth consistently gives forth with some nice solos and accompaniment; the rhythm teams sounds loose and on top of the styles evoked. There are guest soloists, Donny McCaslin sounding limber on tenor; there's also Christian Howes on violin; Ingrid Jensen on trumpet-fluegelhorn. All that is perfectly nice. But if the vocalist doesn't cut it, what does it matter?

Elisabeth scats well, phrases dramatically according to the impact of the lyrics and in the improvisational moment, one assumes. She has a very good instrument and can vary it with the music at hand. She seems a born musical storyteller. Now maybe that has nothing to do with the jazz part, but who cares? Is she the next Abbey Lincoln? Probably not. However this is a fine set with intimacy, well-heeled arrangements, and first-rate interpretations. She's good and also good to listen to.

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