Norah Jones offers jazz that's smooth as silk

Norah Jones is back with her sixth album, Day Breaks.
Norah Jones is back with her sixth album, Day Breaks. PHOTO: DANNY CLINCH

Going back to the piano after years of writing tunes on the guitar, Norah Jones sounds self-assured and elegant in her singing and playing on Day Breaks, which may be said to be the spiritual successor to her 2002 debut, Come Away With Me.

Carry On, the lead single from the new sixth album, is a balmy piano/organ ballad that shuffles gently with a Let It Be-like progression - it would sound perfectly at home in the soft, piano jazz of Come Away With Me.

Among the rest of the album, there are straight-ahead jazz tracks, such as the opener, Burn, which features Jones' smouldering vocals and sterling accompaniment by jazz veteran Wayne Shorter on soprano saxophone, drummer Brian Blade and bassist John Patitucci.

Her piano chops and silky singing also come to the fore on two smoky numbers - It's A Wonderful Time For Love and Once I Had A Laugh.



    Norah Jones

    Blue Note

    3.5/5 stars

Her last solo album, 2012's Little Broken Hearts, was a sonically diverse collaboration with uber-producer Danger Mouse that was missing all those jazzy touches.

Still, Day Breaks retains plenty of the contemporary sounds so prevalent in her last few releases.

The title track, all eerie stop-start rhythms and minor chords, delves into alternative rock territory sans guitars.

Flipside is a jazz-soul-rock hybrid with Wurlitzer electric pianos and Hammond organs galore. Its urgent tempo and lyrics ("Put the guns away or we'll all gonna lose") suggest the American singer-songwriter has her eye on politics

It is not Beyonce-level social criticism a la Lemonade, but the choice to cover hard bop legend Horace Silver's Peace is telling: "With a new point of view/Life's true meaning comes to you/And the freedom you seek is won/Peace is for everyone," she gently croons, a balm suitable for the increasingly venomous tone of the United States presidential elections.

Don't Be Denied, one of Neil Young's more obscure tunes from the early 1970s that traces the Canadian folk/rock hero's hard childhood and disillusionment with fame, ambles along as Jones switches the gender in the narration.

When she sings, "Playing our songs for the highest bid/We played all night/The price was right", she's channelling Young's words, but you wonder if it's also a take on her status as one of the music industry's most reliable unit shifters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Jazz that's smooth as silk'. Print Edition | Subscribe