Something to Sing About
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Lisa Kirchner's album Something to Sing About on first (and even second) glance has all the look of a straightforward collection of songs by American composers, including Ives, Corigliano, Adams, Rorem, Del Tredici, Harbison, Bolcom, Barber, and Leon Kirchner (the singer's father, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, but in fact, all the composers in that list also won the prize), as well as some from more of a pop tradition like Robert Telson and Wynton Marsalis. Closer inspection of the credits, though, offers a clue that something is up; the accompanying instruments include piano, alto sax, accordion, bass, guitar, and drums. But you really have to hear the songs to get a handle on the album's uniqueness. Kirchner is a jazz singer whose voice has the character of a cabaret chanteuse, so her style is not at all like that of the kind of bel canto-trained singer for whom most of these songs were written. Although her vocal quality is jazz-inflected, she sings the songs basically straight-on (except for some improvised riffs thrown in during transitions and sometimes adding repeats), just as they were originally written. Her accompanying ensemble, however, may or may not reflect composers' original version, so the overall effect is definitively more jazz than classical. In these performances, the songs sound not like crossover — classical music dressed up as jazz — but like they were written as jazzy pop tunes, even though, paradoxically the tunes are presented essentially unaltered, just as the composers wrote them. It's initially disconcerting, particularly in familiar songs like Barber's "Under the Willow Tree," where Barber has one truly weird modulation in the transition but this version has a dizzying string of truly weird modulations before settling down. But, it works. As odd as the premise sounds and as surprising as the initial impressions are, these performances sound like persuasive, frequently beguiling, renditions of jazz standards. Kirchner's dusky voice is seductive and wears well, and she sings with easy spontaneity and intuitive musicality. Much credit goes to the band for the inventiveness of its accompaniment. The sound is clear, immediate, and very clean. The voice is foregrounded in a style more characteristic of pop than classical. The album should interest fans of cabaret singing and crossover, as well as adventurous fans of classical vocal music.
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