Tuesday 17 February 2015

The Origin of Adjustable Things

Joanna Wallfisch - The Origin of Adjustable Things
The Origin of Adjustable Things; Joanna Wallfisch, Dan Tepfer; SSC
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 2 2015
Star rating: 3.5

A multitude of influences in these songs for just voice and piano from a young jazz duo

I suppose that, if you want to pigeon-hole things, Joanna Wallfisch is a jazz singer and composer but her style bring all sorts of other influences to bear and this album  The Origin of Adjustable Things has much to attract and intrigue anyone interested in fine performance. Wallfisch is joined by keyboard player Dan Tepfer and most of the tracks feature Wallfisch's vocals and Tepfer's accompaniments in piano, mellotron, wurlitzer and pump organ. The majority of songs are by Wallfisch herself, both music and lyrics, but there are some covers of songs by the likes of Radiohead, Dimitri Tiomkin, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.

Joanna Wallfisch comes from a musical family (yes, those Wallfisches) and studied Jazz Performance at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and is now based in New York. She is joined here by jazz pianist Dan Tepfer whose heritage involves being born in Paris to American parents.

Joanna Wallfisch and Dan TepferThe main focus of the album is the voice/piano duo of Wallfisch and Tepfer, though Tepfer veers into other keyboards to provide a variety of timbres and there are some electronic effects too which, though discreet, rather startle at first. Wallfisch layers backing vocals on songs like Satellite, and on Brighton Beach Wallfisch herself plays piano whilst Tepfer plays pump organ. But the combination of just voice and piano gives the album a stripped down quality, it concentrates on the basics and, in terms of the song-writing, means that there is nowhere else to go. We cannot be distracted by glorious instrumental rifs, we are concentrating on the songs themselves.

Wallfisch's style is pleasingly plangent and most of the items on the disc have a touchingly mournful quality. She reminded me of generation of female singer/songwriters from my younger days, with singers like Joni Mitchell being called to mind. There is however the danger of a certain sameness coming over the songs with their exploring similar emotional palates. But these are finely written songs; Jazz yes, but highly crafted. Her lyrics have a similar quirkiness, and particularly eschew easy rhymes and meters, they never fall into easy patterns and always intrigue and trick the ear. I must admit that, though I enjoyed the disc, on repeated listening I was troubled more by the feeling that the music never comes out and grabs you. The songs respond to intent listening, but it is easy to let them slip into the background.

I think that one of the reasons why I enjoyed this disc was that Wallfisch's writing brings in all sorts of other influences which might not appeal to those wanting a purer jazz style but which makes me love them. I loved the sheer clarity of this music and Wallfisch's performance. She does not stretch and bend pitch and rhythm in the manner of some jazz singers; again we come back to the fact that it the songs, the music that is important. The songs seem to follow an emotional arc, one that is not really up but in which you sense the performer working her way through an intense emotional relationship. Everything ends with a hauntingly intense version of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans' Never let me go.

The disc comes with minimal packaging, but the CD itself contains a handsome digital booklet which includes notes on the songs by Joanna Wallfisch as well as all the words (not that you need them, as her diction is superb)

I enjoyed these songs and will certainly listen to them again, as well as looking out for Joanna Wallfisch live. She and Dan Tepfer will be performing at the The Forge in Camden on 7 April 2015.

The Origin of Adjustable Things
Joanna Wallfisch - This is How You Make Me Feel [3.34]
Joanna Wallfisch - Satin Grey [4.28]
Joanna Wallfisch - Satellite [5.10]
Tim Buckley / Larry Beckett - Song to a Siren [4.06]
Radiohead, arranged Dan Tepfer - Creep [3.50]
Joanna Wallfisch -Time Doesn't Play Fair [5.16]
Joanna Wallfisch - Anonymous Journeys [3.48]
Joanna Wallfisch - Brighton Beach [2.23]
Joanna Wallfisch - The Origin of Adjustable Things [2.01]
Dimitri Tiomkin / Ned Washington - Wild is the Wind [5.11]
Joanna Wallfisch - Rational Though [3.25]
Jay Livingston / Ray Evans - Never Let Me Go [5.10]
Joanna Wallfisch (vocals, piano)
Dan Tepfer (piano, meltron, wurlitzer, pump organ)

Recorded by Dan Tepfer at Yamaha Artist Services, NYC on 17,18 May 2014

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