“For they have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear.”

There is a beautiful image that captures the great chasm between a  peace of mind that most of us strive to attain and the quiet desperation that most people live and experience. That image is of a great river. For me, that river is the lordly Hudson. Its surface  can be as smooth as glass, tight as a drum skin, or whipped up into varying degrees of agitation, from rough to rippling. Yet underneath it all, invisible, inviolate, is the steady, powerful and constant current. Both the surface and current are a metaphor for the polarity of our lives – the surface being the world of the outer directed ego, perpetually tossed about by the outside elements at the speed of life, with its constant barrage of images and sound bites. Yet when we take the luxury and time to slow down through the practice of yoga, meditation, journaling, nature walks, or listening to great music, life opens up vertically, then expands, as if, out of nowhere. We have taken the plunge beneath the surface into the current of heart and soul. Suddenly the instincts, the intuition, the deep emotions, even divine inspiration are accessible once more. Then it is possible to hear (not merely listen) profoundly to the music that calls to us, to the artists who speak to us. We can endure and sustain focus for the entire emotional life span of a song, or other musical form. We are able to apprehend the eternal verities of beauty, truth and love that are embodied in the work. We are able to comprehend the unique voice and style of the artist because our mind’s eye and our hearts are clear and open – child-like and expanded. We can suspend our disbelief and we can step off the treadmill and exchange it for a momentary bit of eternity.

This constant dance between the outer surface and the interior worlds below the surface, reflect the tension and resolution in music. It is precisely this tension that is required for forward motion.

For some wonderful musical meditations, guaranteed to bring you below the surface, I highly recommend:

Bill Evans and Tony Bennett Together Again

Chet Baker The 1959 Milano Sessions

Irene Kral Where is Love?

 

Irene Kral (January 18, 1932 – August 15, 1978)

I recently came across a song, entitled “Forgetful”, by Jack Segal and George Handy, originally written for David Allyn. It was  recorded by Chet Baker on his 1959 Milano Sessions, with a string quartet.   The following link, on You Tube, is Irene Kral’s sensitive rendition:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EKks-bWcZo

All three singers are supremely gifted and musically intelligent; and, all three render a superbly understated reading of the lyrics.

If you have never heard of Irene Kral, you are in for a real treat. Her voice is warm and quite heart-felt.  Her musical taste is extraordinary and her phrasing is masterful. She was nominated for a Grammy for “Where is Love” (1974), an album of entire ballads, accompanied only by the impeccable pianism of Alan Broadbent. She was the sister of Roy Kral, of Jackie and Roy fame. The world lost a shining star in the musical firmament when she died in 1978.

Influenced by Carmen McRae, and earning her chops in the bands of Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton and Shelly Manne, she possessed a distinct voice and was musically sure of herself. And having found that voice, she had a style all her own.

To read more about Irene Kral, please go to the following link dedicated to her memory:

http://www.danacountryman.com/irene/photos/photos.html

One more site, click to hear her incredible version of “This Life We’ve Led”, written by Tommie Wolf, Fran Landesman and Nelson Algren:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZjp7DJxgGg

 

Introductions

The first thing I do when I listen to an unfamiliar singer is determine whether or not the voice seduces me. This is exclusively subjective and truly does not reflect upon the talent itself. Some voices are acquired tastes and require an aesthetic maturation in order to grasp the scope of artistry.

I begin the probe by asking these questions: Is the voice warm? Is the intonation uniquely and interestingly beautiful? Is it elastic, relaxed and easy on the ear? Is there clarity of diction? Is the voice authentic and honest?

In peeling the various layers off the vocal veneer, I begin to search underneath this patina for the emotional content and intent. Is the lyrical landscape fleshed out and fulfilled by the artistic mind behind the tone? Am I being informed, and surprised, into a deeper, more personal connection with the subtext of the story.

Paramount to this inquiry is to ascertain evidence of a musical intelligence. If it exists, does it shine upward from the core, emanating throughout the song’s arc, creating a suitable and fitting aural aura?

Is it a musical intelligence of the first order? This question breaks out like the tines of a fork into parallel questions: Is the selection of songs well chosen, well-suited and solid compositions to refract through the lens of the singer’s personality? Are the arrangements cluttered or do they put into sharper relief the overall intentions of the authors and the singer? Is there a balance of all instrumentation or is there a conspicuously competitive rivalry? Are the singer and musicians acting as “clearinghouses for nature” (a phrase a vocal coach once drove into a session like a vintage car) to allow the syngergy of the final blend to clearly manifest a singularity or is it merely a vanity project? Did this musical intelligence conspire and orchestrate all these vital and seemingly disparate elements into a true communication of the artistic intention between the singer and the listener?

I find so often in today’s manufactured climate of sound, self-indulgent hipsters who are simply caricatures possessing mere generic voices; who have scaled heights no greater than a bonsai tree, and who inhabit a world of smoke and mirrors – in what Virgil Whitney (Julius Monk’s friend, in Whitney Balliet’s New York Voices) called the “venal, narcissistic world of show business”. True artists value integrity, honesty, daring boldness and technical mastery over formulaic patterns. These creative souls have highly developed musicianship and a natural and unforced musicality that enchants rather than imposes.

It is the difference between eroticism and pornography. This distinction has to do with a true understanding of imagination. Eroticism selectively reveals and pornography deciphers the entire message. Alfred Hitchcock (a master of film suspense) knew he could not compete with the imagination, but he realized – or brilliantly discovered and intuited – that one needs to feed the imagination only a few key ingredients to actively engage it. The imagination superseded any mechanical invention he could have devised to create the suspense he desired. In art, the same is true, the artist need only intelligently and selectively allude to the essence of the thing itself; e.g., the Picasso one line drawings. Less is always more! And so to with the voice, especially the ballads; a great singer punctuates space by inserting parenthetical fragments of phrases against this “background canvas of silence”, with just the right tension, counterpointing and moving through the musical time, to suggest the intended pathos.

This blog will focus on reviewing CD recordings of vocal jazz artists, both old and new, that I think are outstanding based on these criteria.

Remain forever young and bring a youngster to a live vocal jazz set and then go meet the artists!

Support the arts and the artists by buying and downloading a CD today!