Album review

Kristin Korb – ‘What If?’

Kristin Korb – What If?
(Double K Music (*). Album review by Lauren Bush)

American double bassist and vocalist Kristin Korb was primarily based in LA until moving to Denmark about 10 years ago, where she continues to impress audiences with her nonchalant, no-nonsense look at jazz. Her laid-back personality resonates through her music – she has a way of taking anything and making it sound cool.

This is evident in Korb’s newest release, What If?, where she has rearranged some very recognisable pop songs into trendy jazz numbers. In opening track Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – a song rooted in childhood nonsense from the classic film Mary Poppins – Korb has played with mixed metre and pushed the scansion of the lyrics into something musically interesting and even sophisticated. Snorre Kirk on drums is a staple in her band and the two mesh together so well; Korb’s writing is obviously drawn to featuring bass grooves and rhythmic elements and Kirk ties everything together seamlessly. 

An admirable trait, in this listener’s opinion, of Korb’s taste in music is that she never shies away from a bit of ‘cheese’, but instead finds a way to turn it into a delicacy – thus palatable by pop fans and Michelin star music fans alike. Copacabana is definitely one of Barry Manilow’s most famous hits, and seeing the title on the album jacket may incite an involuntary little cringe. But no need, this arrangement has taken the exotic 70s disco hit and given it a more modal feel with a captivating urgency that wasn’t present in the original.

There is something delightful in recognising a piece of music – hearing something familiar, realising what it is, and then hearing it in a whole new light. Sometimes simple adjustments, or just an artist putting their own spin on something so famous can be touching. Overjoyed was already a delicate Stevie Wonder song, but here it is soft and twinkly, with the soulful beat removed (it’s a bit of a squidgy synth sound, if you recall), and the passion in Korb’s voice is featured more prominently as a result. 

The Power of Love was one track that has changed in style enough that I had to remind myself how the original went. This Huey Lewis and the News song has had such a clever treatment – adding more feeling to the lyrics (which are quite an apt message in our divisive world at the moment). The solo by award-winning Danish harmonica player Mathias Heise is bluesy and intricate – just what the song needed to tie it together. 

This Is My Life is from a Shirley Bassey album from the sixties of the same title. This version is poignant and thought-provoking after a year frozen in time and full of reflection. It’s like a celebration of music, our careers and our creativity, and how they are integral to living fulfilled lives. It starts soft, but the trombone solo by Steen Nikolaj Hansen brings a warmth to the tune. By Magnus Hjorth‘s piano solo, the celebration is in full swing. The final chorus with intermingling lines from Korb, Hjorth and Hansen is beautiful and free.

James Taylor’s classic Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight showcases a lightness to Korb’s voice and a bass solo with a richness to balance. Tenor sax solo by Karl-Martin Almqvist may be short but he packs a punch, reminiscent of a Celine Dion power-ballad before Korb brings it back in for a romantic, altered ending. 

The record ends with another harmonica feature for Heise on a Beatles standard Can’t Buy Me Love. Elements of a New Orleans second line sneak in here and there, with funky punches too, but it swings somethin’ fierce which is just what was needed.

(*) This album is part one of a two-disc release. The second half is called “Why Not?” and features some of Korb’s original music. The double disc will be released on 21 May.

LINK: What If? on Bandcamp

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