Sunday, March 03, 2019

NZ Jazz: Jasmine Lovell-Smith - Fortune Songs

Jasmine Lovell-Smith's Towering Poppies – Fortune Songs
Jasmine Lovell-Smith (ss) Russell Moore (trpt) Cat Toren (p) Patrick Reid (b) Kate Pitman (d) 2011 

While this listening series was designed to get me listening to more jazz by New Zealanders, with a particular focus on albums/artists I hadn't listened to, occasionally I make an exception and revisit a work – as was the case this month. Originally, Fortune Songs was slated for a straight-horning post, but then I thought of the NZ Jazz series and put that on hold (I'll have to revive that series), so now I'm finally getting around to spending more time with the Tower Poppies. 

I've known Jasmine since the early 2000s, and it's always tricky writing about your friends. But I have to say, it's a really solid outing – lyrical, joyous, hints of darkness and drama, plaintive, and conversational. 
New Zealand Jazz

Having two takes of “Confidence” is a nice touch. Each draws something quite different from the piece. The first is uplifting, buoyant and warm. While the second version strips things back for a more reflective approach. I can't think of many soprano/trumpet pairings (a couple from Lacy come to mind playing very different music) but I like the blend they get.

“Darkling I Listen” is somewhat more dramatic with a nice dialogue between piano, bass and drums as the horns step aside following the melody. There's elasticity to the underlying feel. Patrick Reid's bass is bold and the way he comes out of his solo seems like the perfect fit.

There is something chilled-out, yet driving, about “Let Go Be Free” that I find very appealing. During my studies with Richard Tabnik and Connie Crothers, we worked on making notes come alive, listening to where they want to go (rather than subscribing to preconceived lines). Some of Jasmine's notes here (2.06 and at other spots on the album) feature an unstable resonance that really pop out. It's a quality that makes me feel that the note could go anywhere.
The drumming of Kate Pitman is a highlight of the album. Her accompaniment is inventive throughout. She has the knack of not over-doing things while still maintaining propulsion. I enjoy the way she spreads the time around the kit. The propulsion is important factor as many of the tempos are on the slower side but she keeps things moving and interesting.

Cat Toren is pretty understated but that is the approach that is needed with this music. I really enjoyed her comping throughout the album. A nice example is her work behind Russell Moore on “Let Go Be Free”, where she mixes up single note lines, lush chords, and composed material from the melody, yet it never seems to get overbearing or in the way.

“Seven of Swords” is similar to “Darkling” in that is dramatic and features a rubato melody supported by busy accompaniment. I like the way the density backs off following the melody into a section collective improvising. In this case I think I would have like the improvised section to be a bit longer and have the out head stripped back to just soprano, bass and drums – but I'll survive!

Moore throws a bit grease on things during his solo “A Nest To Fly.” It adds a bit of spice to the relaxed groove and the band responds. But restraint is shown (once again). No one is going overboard. Jasmine plays a couple of notes at 2.59 that always remind me of Nathan Haines' “Chinese Burn." The rhythm section just a great job at varying the color and textures behind the soloists.

“Lover's Knot” is a nice example of Jasmine's need not to rush, and her approach permeates through the band. Buy-in from the band, supporting Jasmine's vision, creates a cohesive ensemble sound – one of the strengths of the album (along with her choice of personnel). Sometime I'll have to ask Jasmine how she feels that her love of poetry has influenced her improvising (and writing).

I love the fragility of the opening phrase of “When The Tide Is Right” and how it grows bolder with repetition – but not overly so. From that comes an assuredness to her phrasing of the improvised line. As with here playing throughout the album, it's a lyrical style that doesn't need to rely on an arsenal of well prepared material. A personal approach to the horn. 

Why have I been so slack to get hold of the follow-up, Yellow Red Blue?

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