Move MD 3365
Reviewed by Eugene Ball, April 1st, 2015
Jazz musicians have been recording with strings for some time now. Though dance bands of the 1940s often employed small string sections, it was the albums of the 1950s featuring the most prominent instrumentalists of the day – Parker, Clifford, Dizzy, Wes – that truly established the tradition in which Seasons of Love sits.
While this tradition may have begun as an attempt by record producers to broaden the market for their product, offering a conservative public a less confronting aspect of jazz, it resulted in two happy side effects. Soloists were given a richer harmonic setting than their usual small group environments, and arrangers found an orchestral palate that was significantly more lithe and flexible than the brutish, heavy-about-the-waist big band. Seasons of Love ticks both of these boxes.
Arranger Graeme Lyall shows his command of the craft in no uncertain terms. Here he writes with such grace and authority that the listener may be forgiven for not even noticing the effectiveness of the writing, such is the immersive world he creates. At impeccably placed moments Lyall’s arrangements delve seamlessly into darker harmonic worlds, deftly referencing a wide range of music from the 20th century orchestral canon.
The soloists on the whole sit comfortably within this lush framework, but it is vocalist Gian Slater and flugelhornist John Hoffman that leave the most lasting impressions. Slater’s control is something to behold. She is able to subtly shade timbre and articulation to degrees that are surely the envy of most instrumentalists. The precision with which she delivers pitch is unyielding, resulting at times in a starkness that, far from being austere, evokes a Miles-like potency.
Hoffman’s playing, entirely devoid of pyrotechnics, is a lesson in humility. It shows how compelling simplicity can be when delivered by such a consummate professional. Pianist Tony Gould, too, is the epitome of understatement: his work behind soloists and within the ensemble reveals a true mastery at the service of the music alone.
There is, unfortunately, a distracting technical issue on this recording. Due to what is possibly the result of recording the strings and rhythm section together in the one room (with minimal separation), the drum sound is at times distant and lacks clarity. The strings, on the other hand, sound warm and natural.
Ultimately, this is an entirely approachable album. It is not one that requires specialist knowledge of the vast and sometimes confronting and confusing world of jazz. Here is a recording with immediate and broad appeal in which craft, understatement and control are paramount. Without the understated mastery and sense of humility that pervade this album, it may have strayed a little too close to the all-too-common saccharine, sentimental nods to Tin Pan alley. While innovation is not front and centre here, if you enjoy nostalgic tunes treated with skill and sensitivity, Seasons of Love could be the climate for you.