Since singer Madeleine Peyroux debuted in 1996 with her album, Dreamland, she has carved out an idiosyncratic path through the borderlands connecting jazz, blues and pop.
She leans to the bluesy side of the jazz repertoire, but she also frequently flexes her muscle as a distinctive interpreter of lyricists/composers who have the same penchant for the declamatory storytelling style that is so much a part of the blues.
Her latest album - an eclectic collection of tunes by songsmiths ranging from Eric Clapton and Tom Waits to Allen Toussaint and Sister Rosetta Tharpe - is an assured acoustic outing that benefits from her drily ironic delivery and her warm timbre sharpened with a nasal edge.
Accompanied by her regular sideman guitarist Jon Herington and bassist Barak Mori, she makes full use of the cosy reverb of the recording venue - a 200-seat 12th-century parish church in Oxfordshire where she has gigged before.
The super-stripped down accompaniment is monastically austere, but Peyroux revels in the challenge as her voice contributes intimacy, sex appeal and empathy to the overall feel of the album.
She brings a contemplative melancholy to the opening track, Got You On My Mind, which is miles from Clapton's showier version. She also completely remakes Waits' Tango Till They're Sore by turning it into a, duh, tango. This will probably make Waits fans howl, but it sounds absolutely right, as she delivers the lyrics with a cabaret sass that reminds one of the heavy-lidded seduction of Marlene Dietrich or Ute Lemper.
One of the most fun songs here is Peyroux's strutting delivery of Tharpe's Shout Sister Shout, a gospel barnburner that loses none of its power-posturing despite the bare- bones arrangement. A testament to the power of her singing and a crowning jewel in this polished album.
Ong Sor Fern
The Philippines-born and Singapore-based pianist Albert Tiu has come up with another winner in his second solo album on the American Centaur label.
THE CLASSICAL ELEMENTS
Albert Tiu, piano
The Classical Elements comprises four suites of five pieces each, inspired by the ancient notion of earth, air, water and fire as the four pillars of the natural world. Each suite includes one of Luciano Berio's Encores - Erdenklavier, Luftklavier, Wasserklavier and Feuerklavier respectively - which are surprisingly accessible short pieces. Debussy, the master of musical impressionism, is also sine qua non, with his Hills Of Anacapri, Wind On The Plains, Reflections In The Water and Fireworks as programming pivots.
Tiu's other selections are excellent, with warhorses by Liszt, Ravel and Rachmaninov, and rarities such as Godowsky's Gardens Of Buitenzorg, Griffes' Night Winds, Ibert's The Wind Over The Ruins and Mompou's The Lake, all evocatively coloured.
His touch is variegated and exquisitely weighted and often each piece flows seamlessly into the next. All are virtuoso pieces and he pulls out all stops in Louis Brassin's transcription of Wagner's Magic Fire Music from The Valkyrie and in Scriabin's Vers La Flamme (Towards The Flame).
Chang Tou Liang
The grossly underrated music of Russian composer Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) has enjoyed a renaissance, thanks to the advocacy of pianists such as Nikolai Demidenko, Marc-Andre Hamelin and Hamish Milne.
MEDTNER PLAYS MEDTNER VOL. II
Nikolai Medtner, piano
Melodiya 10 02274 (2 CDs)
Medtner's recordings, however, have pride of place, especially those of his three piano concertos that are classics of the late Romantic repertoire. Gathered in a single album for the first time, these deserve special acclaim for their authority and authenticity. Recorded in 1947 with The Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by George Weldon (Concerto No. 1) and Issay Dobrowen (Concertos No. 2 & 3), with sponsorship by the Maharajah of Mysore, these reveal Medtner as an adroit and mercurial pianist.
His interpretations inform and influence the modern interpretation of his music far more than most other contemporary composers in their compositions.
The Third Concerto, arguably his best, carries the subtitle Ballade and takes on an inexorable sweep through its three connected movements. This is astutely coupled with his rhapsodic Sonata-Ballade, a masterpiece of thematic development and counterpoint, which is similarly inspired.
Chang Tou Liang