Album review

Karen Ruimy – ‘Black Coffee’

Karen Ruimy – Black Coffee
(Independent. EP review by Chris Wheatley)

A change of musical direction here for Casablanca-born Karen Ruimy. Black Coffee sees the artist move away from flamenco and firmly into jazz territory. This should not come as a complete surprise, given Ruimy’s eclectic background. Since leaving the world of global finance, she has worn many hats, including those of author, singer, interviewer, app-developer, activist (in 2010 she set up the Gender Rights Equality Action Trust) and performer at the Edinburgh Festival, where her flamenco audio-visual show (featuring Killing Joke bassist Martin Glover) won strong reviews. Switching musical genres, especially in today’s market, is a bold move. You get the sense, however, that this might be precisely why Karen Ruimy has taken this on. Black Coffee features six tracks, a mix of standards and covers, sung in English and in French. Glover again lends his talents, as does producer/musician Tim Bran (whose credits include work with London Grammar, Julian Cope and Dreadzone).

The much-loved standard, Black Coffee, opens the set. Tackling a song made famous by Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald is courageous, to say the least. From fluttering strings and shimmering cymbals, Ruimy’s version surges forth impressively before descending into that famous bass-line. The production and arrangement here are first-rate, with plenty of orchestral swells and subtle adornments. Ruimy’s intimate, understated and whispery vocals make for a pleasant counterpoint; a delicate butterfly around which the assembled players circle and swoop. That it is a memorable version in its own right is the highest compliment I can give.

Dream A Little Dream Of Me, sung in French, is a breathy, kitsch delight. Wistful accordions and keening strings are wonderfully placed. The song soon opens up into a shuffling, swinging number, with gypsy violins and bouncing brass. Perhaps the most interesting selection here, a cover of Radiohead’s Paranoid Android, is also one of the most effective. Over twinkling keys and hand-percussion, Ruimy and company weave a wide-open spell which effortlessly draws the listener in. Subtle touches of cello and more of those shimmering strings are employed judiciously. There’s an evident touch of Moroccan style here. The exotic charm stems not only from Ruimy’s voice, but from qualities within the music itself; a certain sway which seeps up from its core.

J’ai Deux Amours lilts and sways, with gentle guitar flourishes. As with every song here, a certain dreamy 60s feel permeates. Indeed, had this record been released during the Summer Of Love you would not have been surprised. Black Coffee, however, does not sound in any manner dated or contrived. There’s an earnest love which bubbles up through the arrangements and Ruimy tackles everything with zeal and heart. Video Games floats by on clouds of cinematic strings with a big-band aesthetic. It is dramatic, stirring stuff. La Vie En Rose closes the show. It takes a singer with personality to carry this off, and Ruimy does so admirably. Plenty of space is left in the arrangement, which allows for nuanced touches of piano, accordion and violin to grab the ear.

Black Coffee is an ambitious and wonderfully-produced album. Karen Ruimy carries enough charm and talent to do the songs justice.

Karen Ruimy – vocals; Conrad Korsch – upright and electric bass; Robbie Kondor – piano; Jamshied Sharifi – keys, Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes; Jim Oblon – drums; Rodney Jones – guitar; Frank Filipetti – engineering and mixing; Cashybear (Tim Ross) c/o Z Management – string arrangements.

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