This Dance (Ground Up Music)
By Brian Arsenault
Alison Wedding’s This Dance joins a group of really exceptional albums by female artists that I have been fortunate enough to review the first half of this year. She has a purity of voice that compares to Mary Black who issued the remarkable Songs from the Steeples. She has the jazz range of Halle Loren, whose Heart First is the best thing I’ve heard in 2012, Period.
But Alison isn’t far off anybody’s pace with this collection of songs all penned by her. At her best, her lyrics have depth, intelligence and irony.
Consider from “My Friend Regret”:
Have you met my friend regret
Maybe not, he’s not easy to forget
Soon you’ll know him really well
And though you ask him to,
He won’t leave you alone.
At her best, she is musically inventive with melodies that sometimes surprise.
Consider the oddly touching and unusual love duet with German jazz singer and composer Theo Bleckmann entitled “Anyone but You.” Bleckmann’s voice has some similar qualities to Wedding’s and when they sing together it is so melodic it’s like some soft passage in your favorite opera (in Italian).
Or listen to “Up In Smoke” — my personal favorite –about love’s labors lost with some neat shifts in tempo. Maybe only here does she really let her voice go. She has such control that you welcome this release when it finally happens and ache for more of it. Alison even harmonizes with herself. Wonderful.
She is accompanied on the song by such a fine collection of musicians that I shall name them all:
Henry Hey, piano; Pete McCann, electric and acoustic guitars; Keita Ogawa, percussion; Zach Brock, violin; Maria Im, violin; Josh Henderson, viola; J. Y. Lee, cello; Michael League, acoustic bass, acoustic and electric guitar.
Alison notes that she set out to do an album with strings and this certainly works throughout. The stellar performance besides her own, though, may be Chris Potter’s tenor saxophone work on “Remain.”
Of course, all these musicians would have to be superb to not seem diminished by that voice. Alison Wedding can simply sing a single note to unlock deep emotion. James Joyce used to invent compound words to express concepts he couldn’t get to with a single one. For Alison’s singing, I would coin “phrasemelodyperfection”.
Want a criticism? Lighten up, please, Alison. Mournful regret, sense of loss, regret, envy, jealousy and other downbeat moments and emotions are certainly part of life but they are not all of it. And some of the second half of This Dance drags musically and is repetitious thematically.
A bit of a smile here and there doesn’t mean one isn’t a serious artist and I’ll be a little afraid to return to this album often. As with Johnny Cash’s last album, after June had died, the brilliance can’t totally prevent the onslaught of depression.
Still, the fact that you couldn’t cheer up Dostoyevsky doesn’t mean his stuff wasn’t genius and Alison’s pain seems rooted in deep feeling for those around her, not cynicism. And that voice, it’s as pure as you’ll hear this side of Paradise.
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Brian Arsenault’s November and Other Tales is a collection of short stories exploring the way cold comes by degrees in winter and in the human heart. To check it out, click HERE.