Liam Noble, Heidi Vogel, Mark Lewandowski, photo: Alex Bonney.
Saturday morning listen, best time of the week:
Mainly a duo album, bassist Mark Lewandowski, approaching 2 years on since the release of Under One Sky, reunites with pianist Liam Noble the pair resuming a recording relationship heard on Waller 6 years ago. And following that Ain't Misbehavin' connection, given the earlier homage to Fats Waller, another historic jazz figure in Waller contemporary Billie Holiday is explored.
Singer Heidi Vogel best known for her work with the Cinematic Orchestra - excellent this year in The W's Portrait - appears on a couple of tracks and if you are being literal which we wouldn't recommend the practice of at all then Heidi is cast in the Lady Day role. Her voice is her own muse and she is custodian of this great instrument. Vogel, completing this all British line-up, (Lewandowski now lives and works in the States) features here on 'Lady Sings the Blues' and 'Left Alone.'
Opening very briefly with 'Day Breaks' which acts as a scene setter your tuning fork will be adjusted. And clearly the approach is vintage when you reach 'More Than You Know' because Noble is almost in saloon pianist guise and certainly you think of Teddy Wilson in his sound.
Lewandowski has a springy, woody, natural tone and keeps the tempo back and loose. Criss cross to Lady Day's versions as you listen. And so here head to 1939 (a lot of the songs go back to Holiday's 1930s period) Lewandowski if this were Stars in their Eyes, Matthew - Milt Hinton.
No one however is doing impersonations, as Lewandowski on the cheerful Irving Berlin classic 'This Year's Kisses' shows. On this a song Billie interpreted in 1937 Noble seems to be enjoying himself as he cascades right and left leaping up and down from the black notes to the white modulating and generally letting himself go. Noble is on a lot of records released this year and a happy boon to his many fans us included - notably on Freight Train with Cathy Jordan and Paul Clarvis - released this year. But this track is where you hear his joyfulness most.
Darkness is never far away from the mood on the album although no one is wallowing in it. And the Gordon Jenkins and Johnny Mercer song 'PS I Love You' is so serious at the beginning where Noble shifts emotional register in his introduction and then when Lewandowski comes in with the melody it's melting. Turn to Holiday's version but also in terms of pianism much more recently to Bill Carrothers in the 1990s. Why, his After Hours album trio version lends insights and is good to contrast with how Noble accompanies rather than taking the lead line as Carrothers does. You also do not miss brushes.
Vogel on 'Lady Sings the Blues' quite deliciously injects almost a don't give a damn sense of Carmen McRae to her rendition. It definitely seizes the album by the scruff of the neck.
An album that may introduce you to songs in the Holiday canon you don't know so well - in our case the Franz Waxman song 'Who Wants Love?' which is one of the lighter numbers here and rarely covered (charismatic singer Mina Agossi did a version released in 2007) and where Noble has fun pounding the ivories. Vogel could have been used more on the album proves so grand and powerful on 'Left Alone' where Lewandowski's arco lines are apt beneath the piano in the introduction and ultimately the sound of city traffic blended with careening police car sirens swirling behind resonates as we leave the memory of Holiday alone inspirational on so many levels - so affectingly garlanded.
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