Liz Fletcher – Liz
(audioLoob. CD review by Alison Bentley)
You may have heard singer Liz Fletcher‘s mellow tones on Alan Barnes’ CDs, or on her busy gigging schedule? She’s also a fine songwriter and arranger, and her new album shows her at her very best.
Here are standards with both traditional and funkyarrangements (she has a hand in most of them), originals that more than hold their own, and a fine band.
And there’s Liz Fletcher’s distinctive voice, with its understated husky tones -from Julie London’s smooth timbre to the witty insouciance of Annie Ross. There are glimpses of other singers-a little Sarah, Ella, Anita O’Day, but never as pastiche. Liz is steeped in the tradition, so the singers she loves appear quite naturally in her own voice.
On the traditional side: Willow Weep for Me has Things Ain’t What They Used to Be as an intro and outro, bluesy, slow, straight-ahead. Early Autumn (with Alex Garnett’s engaging arrangement) reveals her deep rich vibrato. She takes her time, never overstating anything, breaking up phrases so the lyrics make sense without ever losing the pulse. She has Claire Martin’s gift of bringing out the feeling in a slow ballad, enhanced by Andy Panayi‘s rich Dexter Gordon-ish sax solo. She negotiates Invitation’s tricky intervals effortlessly, with its nod here to 50s cha cha cha. In Abbey Lincoln’s rarely performed Not to Worry, Liz sounds very like June Christie. Geoff Gascoyne‘s resonant bass solo is like a song all by itself.
There are rearrangements: Days of Wine and Roses has a gentle hiphop groove, and Gascoyne’s striking horn parts mark the contours of the tune. The minor reharmonisation expresses the song’s melancholy mood, and she finds new meanings in the lyrics, really tasting the words. Another Gascoyne arrangement (Sinatra’s End of a Love Affair) is funky with edgy stops, sassy rather than regretful. There’s a little soul here in the improvised high notes (she loves Donny Hathaway) and mid-period Joni. Gunther Kurmayr‘s piano solo is strong and rhythmic.
A highlight is Gerry Niewood’s Latin Joy, with original Fletcher lyrics. Panayi’s arrangement is superb, with some crunchy sus chords that create real tension. Martin Shaw‘s trumpet (flugel?) solo is exhilarating, and Sebastiaan de Krom‘s drumming is exemplary throughout.
Liz Fletcher’s own compositions show her musicality. Monsoon Call has a delicious chord sequence, almost edible horn arrangements and riveting bass riff. There’s some of Sheila Jordan’s sense of swing and fun in Bring It On , and more of Annie Ross’ tone in Why’s cool irony and high bebop. Hopscotch is my own favourite, the moody verses contrasting with the fast choruses. Liz sings like a percussion instrument (actual percussionist Will Parnell is very groovy in this song too). She plays off speech rhythms against the fast pulse and Panayi’s flowing flute.
Both traditionalists and modernists will enjoy this album -and to quote Liz Fletcher’s lyric, its ‘joy is contagious.’