CD review

David Linx – “Skin in the Game”

David Linx – Skin in the Game
(Cristal Records CR 297. CD Review by Peter Jones)

This album from Belgian vocalist, composer and producer David Linx is round about his 30th as leader, either with or without his regular collaborator, the pianist Diederik Wissels. Skin in the Game is without, but Linx does have with him a fine piano trio, occasionally augmented by a guitarist and a spoken-word actor.

Linx (real name David Gistelinck) is an eminent figure in European jazz. In case you think I’m exaggerating, not only is he professor of vocal jazz at the Royal Conservatory of Jazz in Brussels, but amongst the many garlands heaped on his shoulders, the French Minister of Culture made him Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 2005, and the King of Belgium followed suit three years later by dubbing him Chevalier de la Couronne. And the honours keep coming: Linx won Best Vocal Artist at last year’s Victoires du Jazz awards.

Over his 40-year career he has worked with dozens of jazz eminences, including Sweets Edison, Johnny Griffin, Clark Terry, Slide Hampton, The Count Basie Orchestra, Toots Thielemans, Meshell Ndegeocello, Billy Cobham, Jon Christensen, Didier Lockwood, Mark Murphy, Sheila Jordan, Ivan Lins… on and on the list goes.

The bar is therefore set pretty high for this new album: when you’re so deeply embedded in the establishment, there’s a danger that your art might suffer. After all, what is there to keep the fire burning when you’ve already achieved so much?

The more conservative singers tend to look backwards, recording standards in familiar jazz styles – swing, latin, ballad, etc. This approach will get you plenty of work, but you won’t necessarily be remembered once you’re off the scene. Progressives, looking to do something new, to keep things moving, are more likely to take risks by writing originals in a variety of tempos and styles, probably not including swing. To his credit, Linx is in the latter camp. His voice is urgent, full of energy, and not always relaxing to listen to, but then again easy listening seems not to be what he has in mind.

Skin in the Game is a pleasingly varied collection, full of melodic ideas. Linx sings in English, and is backed by the lyrical pianist Grégory Privat, originally from Martinique, Canadian bassist Chris Jennings (the two recently played together on Privat’s solo album) and drummer Arnaud Dolmen, from Guadeloupe.

It makes a welcome change to hear a jazz singer using overdubbed vocal harmonies, as Linx does brilliantly on the opening track Azadi, a tricky little number in fast 7/8, and again on the title track. On the lovely, contemplative Changed in Every Way and once more on On the Other Side of Time, the backing trio are joined by Manu Codjia and his lonesome, volume-pedalled guitar. It’s good too that Linx makes an effort with his lyrics which, while not always free from cliché (“Tables turn while bridges burn”), are mostly as original as the music (“Right now there is no dream big enough / To carry me through the day”). The title track and Night Wind both feature Marlon Moore reading a poem, the first written by Linx and the second by Moore himself. It’s a good technique to add some spoken word – it adds variety to the vocal offering as a whole.

Those who write melodies don’t always find them quite so easy to sing. The waltz Prophet Birds would be a case in point for most singers, with its sinuous melody that spans an alarmingly wide vocal range. Needless to say, Linx pulls it off with both skill and panache.

LINK: Rob Mallows reviews Grégory Privat’s album Soley
David Linx at Cristal Records

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