12 July 2009

Being human

Just the other day I read an essay by Lera Boroditsky where she observes that language “is so fundamental to our experience, so deeply a part of being human, that it's hard to imagine life without it” (ref below). I agree. To me, words are more powerful than vague vision (why I tire of so many movies) or even seductive sound (despite my love of jazz). I listen to lots of instrumentalists and enjoy their invention and skills, but this truth comes to me when I hear vocals, words, direct and unmediated communication, sound without the machines: when I hear the voice.

It all came home to me again this evening while I was listening to three talented and very different singers in what was dubbed as a “Female Vocal Extravaganza”. Disregarding the spin, it was deep and fascinating and human and very, very diverse. I was particularly hoping to observe the differences and this was a wonderful opportunity. Matilda and Rachael and Marie were worlds apart, but all were communicating directly and intimately and so were a joy. And they shared one fabulously intuitive piano trio in support, so it was a concert to remember. They were each humble and wary to perform after the other, as is so often the way of performers, but each was superb in her own individual way. Matilda went first. Lower voice, perhaps alto; calm, pure, full but unadorned. Rachel told me another time that she admired Nina Simone. There’s that same simplicity and rich vocalisation, and restrained jazz freedom. She sang well aged standards, Polkadots and moonbeams, Moonlight in Vermont, and a few originals, like Spirals with its insinuative lyrics: “Hideaway … she will sing, she will try”. Rachael was second with such a different set. There were still standards, Alone together, Dindi, and originals in 3/4. She spoke of giving “a twist” to My funny valentine, but this was more a reimagining. Richly changed, a new work with hints of the original, quotes of the melody, snippets of the harmony. Improvised over with a high, presumably soprano voice, and intimately connected to the band. These were reworkings rather than re-performances. Taking standards and moving into big contemporary sound stages. Marie was last, and paid respect to her precedents. Again, the standards, although a different repertoire, and the originals: Afro Blue rearranged by Marie in 5/4 and with lyrics borrowed from Dianne Reeves; Wayne Shorter’s Fee fi fo fum with her own lyrics but a refusal to say who she’d written them for; Blue skies in memory of Eva Cassidy. Marie always seems to me so well trained: perfect intonation, richly inventive scat, a singer’s singer. I haven’t mentioned the band: Luke, Bill and Ed. Suffice to say a stunningly communicative and responsive trio that plays standards with ease but great inventiveness. See my other posts; they did wonders tonight. And Alex Raupach sat in for some tunes in Marie’s set.

James LeFevre is planning monthly extravanganzas like this at Minque: three guitars, three tenors, etc. and they will no doubt be intriguing. It’s an opportunity to explore an instrument in depth; to compare styles and approaches. But voice is something special, and this was special: three wonderful singers, with very different approaches and with a fabulous, but common, accompaniment. An absolute stunner.

The singers were Matilda Abraham, Rachael Thoms and Marie Le Brun. The accompaniment was by Luke Sweeting (piano), Bill Williams (bass) and Ed Rodrigues (drums). Alex Raupach (flugelhorn) sat in for some tunes with Marie.

  • How does our language shape the way we think? / Lera Boroditsky (viewed 11 July 2009)
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