Feature/Interview

Chrissie Hynde – a new jazzy direction?

The icon of rock and pop music announced some time ago that she was working on a jazz cover album together with a mysterious The Valve Bone Woe Ensemble. Then, at the beginning of June this year, appetites were sharpened by the unveiling of their striking interpretation of Charles Mingus’ Meditation on a Pair of Wire Cutters be-bop classic. In the last days of June, in Pizza Express Live Holborn, the singer presented a very jazzy programme of nine compositions that would be on the Valve Bone Woe album scheduled to be released on 6 September, and The EFG London Jazz Festival 2019 very recently announced Hynde’s concert on 24 November at the London Southbank Center/Royal Festival Hall. Intrigued, Tomasz Furmanek listened to both the available studio recordings and the live performance in London and shares with London Jazz News his reflections on the new musical incarnation of Chrissie Hynde:

Chrissie Hynde at Pizza Express Holborn (Publicity photo)

When questions like “what are such projects for at all?” are asked, I, as a possibly die-hard jazz promoter, always tend to look for the good sides of such activities, if only because they bring jazz as such closer to those who maybe would not reach for it in any other way. You have to discover jazz one day, don’t you? So they may bring some of us closer to jazz…  and while writing these words I am absolutely aware that the jazz police are not asleep, and I am probably exposing myself to them by stating the above.

However, I believe that in the present day (let me generalise) of the progressive disappearance of musical sophistication and musical complexity in popular music, such projects seem to be even more valuable and needed, and it’s not about fighting for jazz and its form only anymore.

Chrissie Hynde herself calls this upcoming relase a “jazzy /dub album” (producers include Marius De Vries and Eldad Guetta) and unpretentiously explains in the press materials that she’s “a devout rock singer as such, but jazz is something I grew up around”, and adds that “jazz got sidelined by rock & roll in the ‘60s, but now the demise of rock seems to be heralding in a newfound interest in it, the most creative and innovative musical forms of the 20th century. I’m happy to jump on the bandwagon”. An additional inspiration was the track Hynde recorded with Frank Sinatra (yes, there was such a duo!) for his second album of duets.

The singles that were published from April to July to announce this sophisticated musical material were Caroline, No, You Don’t Know What Love Is, Que Reste-t’ll De Nos Amours?, and Meditation on a Pair of Wire Cutters – the latter in an intriguing arrangement with afro rhythms, in contrast to the straight-ahead swing jazz version of it, which opened the concert in Pizza Express on 27 June.

During the trumpet solo Hynde appears on the stage, and she is blonde… Then she starts singing the theme in unison with the trumpet… She stands on the side of the stage, no gimmicks, no rock poses, the song ends, and applause. An intriguing start.

Without any announcement she begins to sing Sinatra’s I’m a Fool to Want You. Despite the jazz convention she sounds natural and confident, she is instantly recognizable vocally, her voice is in perfect form. This is not exactly jazz phrasing, but does it have to be in her case?  Hynde sings convincingly and with a sense of style, and as always she perfectly understands the emotional content of the song. She is herself, she does not try to pretend to be “a jazz singer”. The sounds of the electronic instruments used introduce a slightly otherworldly, strange “longing” atmosphere, which perfectly matches the subject of the song and the interpretation of the vocalist. 

Caroline, No is the Beach Boys’ song  -– a cover we already knew from the great-sounding single. Hynde sings it her own way to a jazz accompaniment, and after a while she wins – because she sings with passion! No matter what the already mentioned jazz police would say – she is captivating! Listening to the interpretation of the song I remembered Brian Eno’s words about this musical material, who praised its astonishingly beautiful production and described it as amazing piece of work! And I realized why I completely agree with him. The use of electronics was subtle and sophisticated, creating at times an interestingly bizarre atmosphere and soundscapes while the trumpet beautifully led the themes.

Chrissie Hynde and Valve Bone Woe at Pizza Express (Publicity photo)

The cover of Once I Loved, a bossa nova jazz standard by Antonio Carlos Jobim, is stylish and elegant. The occasional use of the lower register of Chrissie’s voice strongly catches attention…  A very pleasant, dreamy and summery bossa . The trumpeter Steve Parry ’s way of playing proves that he is a great colourist. This is also the case during I Get Along Without You Very Well. Excellent acoustics during the concert are also worth mentioning – a great job from the sound engineer!

How Glad I Am from Nancy Wilson’s repertoire is one of the strongest points of the programme, presenting a classical electric blues sound, and sung with a nerve and a sense of style, and Wild Is The Wind, popularised by Nina Simone, is a slightly avant-garde crucible of various sounds and genres… everything is chilled out, pulsing, with interesting sound blobs and improvisations of the trumpet playing some strictly jazz phrases!

We also had a charming jazzy little waltz Absent Minded Me – “I really do not know why I had a Barbra Streisand single when I was 14?!” joked the singer! I do not know how Streisand did it, but Hynde put a lot of passion into it. It sounded a bit like a musical fairy tale… all mixed up at the end with some trance-y dub.

And at the end we had a classic from the Great American Songbook, You Don’t Know What Love Is, that swung nicely – in the studio version it was recorded with a beautifully arranged string orchestra and a great jazz solo on the piano, but in Pizza Express it was performed in a more personal and intimate way… and then they went back to the be-bop theme of Charles Mingus, which opened the concert. Before the applause even finished, they left the stage, evidently not intending to encore.

An idea of recording an album of interpretations of songs by classic songwriters is of course nothing new. Chrissie Hynde’s singing style is a very much her own – one may love it or not – but she unquestionably is a charismatic and exceptional performer. The band sounds wonderful together, and that’s why everything they do is convincing. Generally they’re swinging enjoyably, not leaning towards a specific stylistic solution, which in fact is a very modern approach. It certainly was good music, although it was not strictly jazz, but, hey, so what? And Chrissie Hynde, because she stayed true to herself in all those takes and stylistic experiments, was very captivating.  She certainly had me convinced.

LINK: Chrissie Hynde and the Valve Bone Woe Ensemble will be at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday 24 November, the final night of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival

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