CURRENCY OF MAN
American singer Melody Gardot is best known for her coolly intimate, jazzy coo. Her last album, 2012's The Absence, tested world music waters with a tentative toe. And while it was slinky and inviting, it also felt a bit tame.
Well, she has truly taken a plunge into deep waters in her latest album. The genre she has taken on is the protest songs of the 1970s. The musical orchestrations draw from the same era, from the school of Motown, with harmonising back-up singers and strutting saxophones, as well as the lush strings of Burt Bacharach.
The album was born out of a chance encounter with a homeless man, according to her album note, and the songs revolve around the experiences of the dispossessed. The weapons Gardot has in her arsenal are, firstly, her voice and, secondly, a light touch seasoned with real insight as a songwriter.
While many of the songs favour the bare-bones orchestrations that have come to define her sound, they also work in backup harmonies, snatches of saxophones and strings, for a more textured feel, which sometimes works, sometimes fails. Her voice, unlike some wispy girl singers, has matured enough to stand up to the busier background.
The smoky seduction of her timbre works best on the feminine perspectives, as in She Don't Know, a sympathetic, acute observation of a prostitute's posture: "All her features are a talkin'/but she don't know."
The standout is the torchy stripped-down ballad, No Man's Prize, which opens with the classic piano tinkle and turns the tables on the often sexist pining blues genre, turning it into a feminist assertion of cynical independence: "For the moment/for the hour/I ain't leaving you no power/I ain't yours you ain't mine."
Kudos to Gardot for venturing into prickly territory. She does not survive unscathed, but it is a worthy venture.
Ong Sor Fern
Pas De Deux
Mari & Hakon Samuelsen,
Violin & Cello
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
Mercury Classics 481 1487
The timing of this release could not have been more ironic. Celebrated American film composer James Horner (of Titanic and Avatar fame) died in June, in an accident while piloting his private plane.
Pas De Deux, a double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra, marked a return to his classically trained roots. In three movements, it was written for the young Norwegian siblings Mari and Hakon Samuelsen as a concert piece. While suitably showy for performers, the work makes few demands on its intended audience, who will wallow in its blend of minimalism, sentimental film music and easy listening.
Made of sterner stuff is Estonian Arvo Part's cult favourite, Fratres (1977), in its version for solo violin, strings and percussion. Its staid harmonies and static rhythms still exude profundity after all these years.
From Italy comes Giovanni Sollima's Violoncelles, Vibrez! for two cellos (with Alisa Weilerstein) with contrasting sections that are far more interesting than Ludovico Einaudi's rather anodyne Divenire for violin and cello.
The album's recorded sound is excellent and fanciers of classical crossover should have no worries making its acquaintance.
Chang Tou Liang
Symphony No. 1
Orchestra/ Choo Hoey
The name of Mikhail Ippolitov- Ivanov (1859-1935) survives on the strength of his Procession Of The Sardar (from Caucasian Sketches), which occasionally appears in pop programmes.
A student of Rimsky-Korsakov’s and a good friend of Tchaikovsky’s, he had a career that took him to Georgia where he encountered Central Asian folk music (which he incorporated into his music) and later became the Director of the Moscow Conservatory.
His First Symphony (1908) bears only faint influences of Tchaikovsky and is more aligned to the symphonies of Rimsky- Korsakov andGlazunov. Its generally thin material, at just over 35 minutes, makes for a pleasant if not utterly memorable listen.
This was one of the SingaporeSymphony Orchestra’s earliest recordings of Western classical music, taped in 1984 and appearing on LP on the Hong Kong Records label. The recorded sound is relatively thin, but it received a reasonably good review from Gramophone, which also noted the orchestra’s inexperience but youthful enthusiasm.
Its couplings, Turkish Sketches and Turkish March, like his Caucasian Sketches, are light and enjoyable. These are the only recordings available of this music and deserve attention because of their relevance to the SSO’s mission of bridging the cultures of the East and the West.
Chang Tou Liang