Archive | April, 2011

CD Review: Cynthia Felton – Come Sunday: The Music of Duke Ellington

13 Apr

Cynthia Felton in a sentimental mood: assured torch-singing

Come Sunday: Dr Cynthia Felton's new twist on some Ellington favourites

If you like velvety, elegant jazz, Cynthia Felton’s Come Sunday: The Music of Duke Ellington will be music to your ears. This is emphatically not just another Ellington tribute.

Felton’s trademark is a contemporary R&B accent which gives these familiar and enduring numbers a refreshing new twist. And with a stellar line-up of accompanists including Patrice Rushen, Donald Brown and John Beasley on the piano, and drummers Terri Lynne Carrington and Jeff Tain Watts, it’s a classy piece of work.

Felton, who has a formidable academic pedigree and is artistic director of the Ethnomusicology Library of American Heritage, has produced the album herself with serene assurance. From the start, she shows she means business. A fast and furious “It Don’t Mean a Thing” introduces the accomplished scatting that later graces an easy, fluid take on “Perdido” and, of course, “Take the A Train”.

The first part of the album is all about celebrating the singer as an integral part of the band – another instrument rather than the voice out front. A swirling “Caravan” nods respectfully to the classic Lambert, Hendricks and Ross version but ultimately ploughs a new furrow as Felton kicks against the melody with her own off-beat, contrapuntal line. And with the title track half way through the set, she introduces a gospel influence that is yet another facet of her eclectic musical range.

To be honest, though, my own taste is more inclined to some of the later, midnight-flavoured tracks in which Felton gives herself the space and a lingering tempo to explore the lyrics.

Blessed with a voice of nearly four octaves, she proves herself a sultry torch-singer of considerable merit, with the assistance of Wallace Roney’s moaning trumpet on “I Got it Bad”, and a molten “Sophisticated Lady” that reveals the song’s broken but still beating heart. The last number, “Prelude to a Kiss”, is lifted by Carol Robbins’s harp, endowing it with that slightly melancholy last-dance feeling. Highly recommended.

CD Review: Lizzyspit – I’m Alive You Know

13 Apr

Lizzyspit sings “I Worry, I Wait” at the Troubadour in London, where several tracks from her new EP were recorded live

I'm Alive You Know: a voice of Skin-like intensity

London singer/songwriter Lizzyspit’s new 7-track EP I’m Alive You Know is a step up from her well-received first album Egg Box. There’s an assurance about her voice, always of considerable emotional substance, which imparts real urgency to lyrics that range from gentle introspection to flashes of anger without straying in to pretentious territory.

These unplugged songs are snapshots of moments lived and stored, captured in a web of spare, acoustic arrangements, and articulated with a Skin-like intensity that insists you listen to the words.

Lizzyspit (also known as Elizabeth Knights-Ward), 25, has been steadily attracting attention since Radio 2 stalwarts Janice Long and Steve Lamacq gave her some all-important airplay. Long described “Stars in the Water” (the third track on this EP) as “absolutely beautiful” and indeed it is: a delicate and ethereal chant of simple images.

The other standout tracks are the single, “Talk You Down” – a sharp, articulate tale of self preservation, and “Only a Matter of Time”, part cry for help, part reassurance that help will come.

“Little Dan” with its quirky, loping whistled intro, is a touching tribute to individuality, while “Trip” explores the frustratingly enduring remnants of a relationship that’s left its mark. “I Worry, I Wait” is a frank, unsparing account of 21st century neurosis that will echo with anyone afflicted by doubt and uncertainty.

While her first album was self-produced in her bedroom – she made a sound booth out of egg boxes – most of these tracks were recorded in London at the Troubadour, giving a strong sense of Lizzyspit’s strengths as a live performer.

Her voice, with its underlying vibrancy and resonance, is a compelling instrument that sets her apart from the current mainstream of young female singer/songwriters. It’s well served here by her spare guitar accompaniment, but I bet she can equally well let fly with a band and some harder beats behind her.

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