CLOSER Beady Belle
These days, jazz and jazz singing in particular suffers from severe stagnation problems. To listen to the majority of "jazz" recordings released in the new millennium, you would think that nothing has changed in music, recording, and, in fact, the world since the Seventies. A relentless round of standards from the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties, with a few "original" compositions thrown in that sound like they were written thirty or more years ago. Notable exceptions apply, but for a small label in Norway, the exception is the rule.
Jazzland Recordings specializes in jazz-oriented music that sounds like it was recorded tomorrow. Artists like guitarist Eivind Aarset, and the sax, upright bass, drums, and laptop group, Wibutee, make music that draws on the complexity of jazz harmony and rhythm, at the same time as it leans heavily on the fascinating and exciting, rhythmic, and textural contributions of Electronica, Hip-Hop, and DJ club culture.
For those that like vocals with their jazz, Beady Belle offers the gorgeous warbling of Beate S. Lech. No standards or blues here, Beate (who also goes by the group name Beady Belle as well) sticks strictly to original tunes, for which she writes the lyrics, while collaborating with the rest of the band on the music. A distinct R&B feel pervades the outing but it is stripped down from earlier Beady Belle: each sound is highlighted, dry and in-your-face. Like some of their label mates, they are not averse to using samples and programmed beats, but in the spirit of jazz, much of the music is also played live. What is interesting is that the live playing is just as likely to sound like a sample, since Beady Belle is of a generation of jazz musicians as influenced by Snoop Dog and Kraftwerk as by Charlie Parker.
Ms. Lech has obviously read a book or two in English while studying her musical craft, allowing her to write a wry, sardonic tune about superficiality like "Skin Deep," proving that her own beauty is far from. Her English, better than my Norwegian to start with, has improved since the group's first record, giving a new suppleness to her phrasing, and new depth to the words. The occasional remaining awkwardness comes across as charming in light of the obvious intelligence behind the thoughts.
But it is the music that truly sets Beady Belle apart from the been-there-done-that-got-the-T-shirt sound of most jazz vocal records. Imagine a bare-bones Destiny's Child with more electronic sounds, and more swing, or a more booty shaking Cassandra Wilson, and you are getting close. Beats butt up against dissonant string quartets, colored by electronic glitches, fading into romantic piano then back into strings. Live, they reportedly extend the arrangements in a true jazz fashion. Unfortunately for us, this music has not caught on sufficiently in America for bands like Beady Belle to tour here yet; the music is only available in the States as a download from iTunes or as an import. Fortunately for them and their label mates, they work consistently in Europe (I had to fly to England to see Eivind Aarset--it was worth it).
The band seems to be edging toward more abstract cuts like "Airing" and the title tune, and it is an interesting, original direction, though I would miss the Sade-style grooves of "Skin Deep" and the more open jazz swing of "Pillory-like." Wherever they go, those more interested in where jazz is going than where it has been, will follow. Michael Ross
the Closer CD available online from
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