CD review

Clare Foster – ‘Kumbhaka’

Clare Foster – Kumbhaka
(Available via Bandcamp. CD review by Alison Bentley)

“There’s a famous saying in Portugal and Brazil,” says UK vocalist Clare Foster: “Those that sing send their troubles away.” Her new album reworks jazz standards with the rhythms of South America, and includes some of her own compositions too. Quem Canta Os Males Espanta is the phrase in question, and the title of one of her songs: Foster’s words are in English and the Portuguese version is by Sue Jarvis. It’s full of upbeat joyful grooves, the voice scatting effortlessly with Shanti Jayasinha’s trumpet. Baião Na Praia, co-written with Jayasinha, has a tricksy melody sung at speed with perfect accuracy. Karen Tweed’s accordion adds a delicious timbre. In contrast, The Silent Space is a pensive ballad for Foster’s late mother, with some expressive cello from Jayasinha, and warm vocal improv.

“I love the American songbook – that’s what brought me into jazz,” Foster remembers. She herself studied in the US with Barry Harris and Judy Niemack, and has an understated, rhythmic style and beautiful tone that puts these melodies first. “I think of Ella, and those 45 albums I’ve got that I absolutely loved.” Most of the album is made up of Foster and Jayasinha’s arrangements of standards – sung to authentic S. American rhythms not often heard in jazz. Three band members are from Uruguay and bring a tremendous rhythmic energy: Andrés Lafone on electric bass; Andrés Ticino on drums and percussion; and Guillermo Hill on guitar. All play the tamborile too at some point. Who Will Buy? is an upbeat Colombian currulao, with an impassioned trumpet solo from Jayasinha. Foster’s voice brings out all the lyrics’ pathos in the slow Cuban bolero I Get Along Without You Very Well.

Other songs extol the virtues of singing: Singin’ in the Rain is a tender bolero, featuring one of Hill’s Spanish-style guitar solos. His fluent jazz lines pull against the groove and weave beautifully into Foster’s improvising. You’re blown around (and away) by Gone With the Wind’s flamenco treatment – and Hill’s solo. It’s hard to single out John Crawford’s Fender Rhodes in a particular piece, as it’s so good throughout (Neil Angilley also guests brilliantly on one track), but in Can’t Help Singing (an Argentinian chacarera) Crawford’s notes seem to bubble up through the song’s exuberance.

Some songs are subtly reharmonised: There’s a Small Hotel and I Only Have Eyes for You have compelling pedal points that work well with the Brazilian maracatu, and the rumba and salsa grooves. They spill over into Crawford’s montunos in the latter, with Cuban-style backing vocals and horn harmonies that make your feet twitch.

The horn parts are played by various guests who also contribute superb solos. No Moon at All (a Brazilian xôte) features Mick Foster’s bass clarinet, while Fayyaz Virji’s trombone comes to the fore on Stairway to the Stars (a Brazilian ijexá.)

What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? is a slow, meditative Argentinian milonga, with wonderfully shifting brush sounds. Just One of Those Things (neatly combined with another Foster/ Jayasinha original: In Search of Love) is arranged by Jayasinha as a Puerto Rican bomba, with four overdubbed trumpets. It’s like being in the centre of a carnival.

“I wasn’t trying to be a Latin American singer at all,” says Foster. “I was trying to pay respect and homage to all these rhythms and the American Songbook.” The result is fresh and original – I’d love to hear these musicians on a big festival stage in the sun, but in the meantime, just sit back and enjoy the album.

LINK: Kumbhaka on Bandcamp

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