Lucia Cadotsch – Speak Low II
(We Jazz Records. CD review by Jon Turney)
Swiss vocalist Lucia Cadotsch delivers the least ornamented treatments of songs you may ever hear. Like a writing style that aspires not to exhibit style, this is hard to bring off. But when it works, it can be memorably effective.
To see how, check her version of Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going to Rain Today, rendered with desolating simplicity. It’s a heart-rending hymn to defeat that illuminates and elevates the original. Even allowing for the advantage of covering a song by a genius songwriter who can himself barely sing, that’s good work.
Musically, this approach depends on sympathetic settings, provided here by the two Swedes – and her fellow Berlin residents – Otis Sandsjö on sax and Petter Eldh on bass. Their long-standing collaboration, marked in their first Speak Low recording in 2016, developed these arrangements. They are augmented this time out by subtle contributions from Lucy Railton on cello and Kit Downes on organ.
The Swedish duo are crucial, though. The contrast between Cadotsch, devoid of jazz mannerism, and their freely inventive accompaniment sets up a pleasurable tension that runs through the set. Sandsjö likes to prowl around the melody like a bear outside a cave. Eldh keeps things firmly rooted, and has some wonderful duo moments with the singer.
They both provide startling moments of improvisation, but it is the vocal lines that stand out. There’s a clarity of expression I associate with singers like Ute Lemper. But where Lemper refines a performance into a sequence of perfectly weighted gestures, which she then repeats in each show, Cadotsch’s equally considered delivery still manages to sound spontaneous.
The selections here, which the notes relate were winnowed from twenty new arrangements they tried out, include songs by Ellington (Azure), Kurt Weill (the title track and Ballad of the Drowned Girl), and a dip into folk with Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair where the cello sets the tone. And there’s a clever pairing of What’s New with Tony Williams’ There Comes a Time that makes two normally innocuous tunes newly haunting.
A wistful, reflective mood prevails. Cadotsch’s treatments, and her translucent, incantatory voice work, evoke that more readily than anything more exuberant. And yes, there is strenuous effort, perhaps, to be distinctive. In some hands that would get in the way. But each cut carries such deep conviction it comes across in the moment as the only possible interpretation. They work, because there is keen intelligence here, applied by everyone in the service of the song.
Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol. jonturney.co.uk. Twitter: @jonWturneyLINK: Speak Low II on bandcamp