CD Review: Joanna Wallfisch – Wild Swan

Joanna Wallfisch –Wild Swan
CD Review by Alison Bentley

Joanna Wallfisch‘s CD artwork -a young woman sitting on a rocky coastline with a New York skyline in the hazy distance- suggests a mixture of English Romanticism and NY complexity. Joanna Wallfisch travelled to New York to record her debut CD with US musicians, and her dreamy lyrics and sweet voice work together well with their modern melodies , unexpected harmonies and free improvisation.

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Joanna is firmly in the tradition of English jazz singers with a clear, understated tone and inventive approach to improvisation, such as Norma Winstone, Tina May and Jacqui Dankworth.

Norma Winstone travelled to the US 20 years ago to record her lyrics to The Peacocks (A Timeless Place) with the composer, pianist Jimmy Rowles. Joanna begins her version with no piano-she sings the exquisite melody beautifully in duet with a free sax solo from Sam Newsome.

The moods vary- from the gentle tango of Any Dream Will Do to the humorous Latin Leopard Skin Shoes, with a Marc Ribot-style guitar solo from Jay Vilnay. Her poetic lyrics to John Taylor’s gorgeous Windfall (a melody from Azimuth days) and expressive vocal solo draw the listener in to her imaginative world.

Drummer Rob Garcia has written a number of the tunes on the album, and plays sympathetically and subtly. Eternal Ebb and Flow has a gentle, almost hip hop back beat, which, with the Fender Rhodes solo, takes it into Gretchen Parlato territory.

Blue Red and Grey – a Who song by Pete Townsend- has a simple folk quality here, as does the voice, with a touch of Katie Melua. The soprano sax sound is sweet, interacting with the vocals in the 4s. In My Wish, Art Hirahara‘s gorgeous Bill Evans-like piano anchors the swooping vocals.

The lyrics are very important throughout: the singing follows the rhythm of the words to express the meaning fully. I Could Tell You starts almost declaimed over a fine solo bass from Joe Martin, then a bluesy melody , but the focus is on the intimate lyrics. Several Times in the Past Week is a translation of a Sufi poem set to Garcia’s haunting tune.

In The Sea, The Sea, the unpredictable character of the sea becomes a metaphor for a lover. It starts with free improvisation, and the soprano recalls Wayne Shorter. Luciana Souza’s vocals spring to mind, but Joanna’s voice sounds lighter-toned and more classical. There’s a hint of Mingus-era Joni, but less bluesy. Cohen’s Suzanne concludes, its sparse arrangement focusing on the poetry.

Joanna’s voice is strong, natural and distinctive, and the band is superb. This is a lovely, romantic, atmospheric album, hopefully the first of many to come.


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