Laura Zakian – Minor Moments
(Tall Guy Records. CD review by Adrian Pallant)
London-based jazz vocalist and educator Laura Zakian has released four solo albums to date, the most recent – 2014’s Songs for Modern Lovers – including in its line-up pianist Steve Lodder, double bassist Simon Thorpe, drummer Nic France and baritone saxophonist Paul Bartholomew. For new project and EP release Minor Moments she returns with that same quartet – but, notably, it marks her creative collaboration with vibraphonist, percussionist and composer Martin Pyne.
Zakian’s lyrics are melded with Pyne’s music to create five songs of emotive introspection and tender beauty, informed by more than a year’s absence from the music scene due to melancholic depression. Taking Martin’s demos as a starting point – either adapted from existing compositions or written specifically with Laura’s voice in mind – she translated those very personal experiences into positivity, crafting phrases which sensitively ebb and flow with the music’s auras and rhythms. Interestingly, as this partnership progressed, the proffered demos’ working titles became intentionally less suggestive of their original inspirations, allowing Zakian’s lyrical development to be unclouded. And it’s clearly been a fulfilling process, which she explains as “a lasting compensation for getting through what I can now say was one of the most difficult periods of my life”.
The resultant songs (chosen from a greater number they have co-written) can be quite affecting as Zakian’s expressions are full of conviction, conveying both despair and hope; and the attractive vibrato heard in the Great American Songbook selections of previous albums has, here, elements of tonal fragility which indicate a deep connection with her words – the sense of evoking past pain, yet finding conquering strength.
Heralded by dark piano discords, the vocal lines of slowly-waltzing Nobody Knows intimate bewilderment (“Nobody knows why it feels like this; how come it hurts, when all around is bliss”), supported by the rich, reassuring baritone of Paul Bartholomew (Laura’s husband); and Martin Pyne adds retro-tinged bongo momentum to the rising swell of Dreaming Life. Both song titles are illuminated by a melodic hook that remain imprinted long after. The bluesy title track (“Minor moments play their part, they mend a broken heart”) is both elegant and calming, Steve Lodder’s solo piano finely attuned to and ornamenting the dynamics of Zakian’s serene vocal; and though daylight breaks on Here Comes the Fall, it speaks of a restless reality behind the smile as “loneliness creeps round and round”. Finally, in a particularly beautiful, seamless blend of minor and major, Plainsong expresses love and devotion – looking towards the light, sustained as ever by this masterful quartet.
The artistic alliance of Zakian and Pyne intrigues as to what else they may create together, as there is evident empathy in such poignant, meaningful songwriting delivered with gently uplifting grace.
Laura Zakian launches Minor Moments at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, this Sunday, 12 May (the EP releasing the following day), in a programme entitled Something Old, Something New which will also include lesser-known Frank Sinatra repertoire.