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I Hear Sparks: Elisabeth Lohninger – Songs of Love and Destruction

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Love and destruction frequently merge, tearing us apart from the inside before we’ve even noticed. That sentiment is a big part of what makes Elisabeth Lohninger’s gorgeous Songs of Love and Destruction such a profound piece of work. The record is deeply emotional, deeply significant and Lohninger’s vocal command and control floats this one through to the heavens.

Along with Lohninger’s vibrant vocals, she’s joined by a cast of jazz talents that include bassist Evan Gregor, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, violinist Christian Howes, drummer Jordan Perlson, pianist Bruce Barth, and, my personal favourite, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen.

“I have lived with the idea for this album for many years,” says Lohninger. “To me, love and destruction are intimately connected. I find that love in a modern sense is a very fragile concept that leads us to often destroy what we love most dearly.”

She’s right on that score. We’re told that modern relationships are fragile, reliant on gifts and trinkets to grease the wheels through the rough patches. But Lohninger doesn’t seem content with the myths, choosing instead to walk the line between love and destruction and tossing out the “deeply romanticized idea of what love is.”

The blend of music here is fantastic, with Lohninger not only floating effortlessly through Latin and traditional jazz numbers but engaging us with her utter authority as well. She’s both a vocal giant and a smoky club singer, keeping us guessing as she twists through classics from the Great American Songbook and playfully jumping into the smoky “Si Me Quieres” with a wink.

I’m nothing if not a k.d. lang nut, so hearing Lohninger’s rendition of “Save Me” was something else. The way the Austrian singer tackles the hesitant nature of the piece is marvellous, but it’s how she makes the song her own that really sinks this one in. Barth’s tender piano gives her a cushion on which she can feel secure and Lohninger’s care springs from that root. Beautiful stuff. And, of course, Jensen’s towering, sharp trumpet sure helps.

Lohninger grew up in an Austrian mountain village and began singing in school and church choirs. Since relocating to New York, she’s released seven albums.

Songs of Love and Destruction may be my first run-in with this tremendous talent, but I can assure you that it will not be my last. Missing out this vocal jazz conjuror would be, in my view, a mistake.

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