Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Style and Substance of Gretje Angell

courtesy of Play MPE

Recently Grevlinto Records released the debut album of Los Angeles-based jazz singer Gretje Angell entitled …in any key. It is a relatively modest offering, a little over 35 minutes presenting nine standards from a variety of different eras and genres. However, if the album is a reflection on the past, it is a welcome one.

I like to remind classical fans that Antonio Vivaldi’s ever popular Four Seasons collection of four violin concerts is actually part of a larger collection of twelve concertos entitled Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione. That first noun is taken to mean a “contest” between harmony and invention; but the usual connotation of “cimento” seems to be that, if a test is at stake, it is a hard one. This brings to mind what television has done to the idea of a song contest, turning it almost into a bare-knuckle street fight. As a result, a latter-day Vivaldi might find it appropriate to address an ongoing contest between style and substance at the heart of these televised competitions.

I suppose I take refuge in jazz singing because, for the most part, it rises above the silly fray provoked by television producers who could care less about the sorts of priorities I value, such as attentive listening and music that deserves such listening. From that point of view, Angell provides one of the safer harbors I have recently encountered. The diversity of the songs recorded on this album make it clear that she appreciates how each song deserves its own distinctive style. At the same time, however, she never short-changes the substance of the tune provided by the composer to fit the words of the lyricist. One might say that the singer is confident enough to deliver a substantive account that prioritizes the song itself.

I also think it is worth crediting Dori Amarilio for the arrangements he provided. He is a guitarist and the only instrumentalist to appear on all nine tracks of the album. He is also the only accompanist for the last three tracks, Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “One Note Samba” (which begins with a ravishing a cappella passage from Angell), Vincent Youmans’ “Tea For Two,” and “Them There Eyes,” the joint effort of Maceo Pinkard, Doris Tauber, and William Tracey. The remaining tracks involve different combinations of instruments (including the strings of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra for Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Deep in a Dream”); and that variety does much to enhance the stylistic diversity of Angell’s approaches to substance.

The overall duration of the album may be brief for a compact disc, but there are big things in this small package.

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