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Music Review: Fay Claassen – Sing!

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what simplicity means. We live in complex times and the amount of information and conflict floating through the air can be downright nerve-racking. Simplicity, perhaps even a little peace, can seem as improbable as a good Michael Bay movie, but every so often something comes along that allows for purity and simplicity of thought – even just for a moment.

Singing can be the purest form of eloquence. Icons throughout musical history have shown us the power of The Voice and the sheer magic of the right notes and the right pitch. For Fay Claassen, winner of the first Chet Baker award, her latest record exemplifies that simple magic I’ve been thinking a lot about.

Claassen isn’t pretending with Sing!, perhaps the most aptly-titled record I’ve listened to this year so far. And as she bolts out in front of an immense orchestra (upwards of 120 people, for cryin’ out loud!) she releases The Voice and the right notes and the right pitch and the sheer magic. More importantly, though, she releases that inborn ability to Sing! with a passion and heart seldom heard.

Claassen is accompanied by the WDR Big Band and the Rundfunk Orchester. Now you might think that standing and singing in front of such an enormous group of musicians would prove a daunting task, but Claassen’s confidence is energetic and the big, big, big band never overshadows her.

The beauty of Sing! is that Claassen and the players are able to roll through the flashy and splash big band magic AND the smaller, intimate moments without forcing it. Claassen’s desire to simply sing her heart out creates an elegant, graceful, powerful bit of magic that can be overwhelming at times.

A voice and a heart this damn big can’t be contained by genres, so it stands to reason that Claassen’s journey through her favourite vocalists would take her through the music of everyone from Anita O’Day to Nina Simone to Bessie Smith to Joni Mitchell to everybody’s favourite feathery Icelander Björk.

“Cover Me,” from Björk’s spectacular Post, is a tremendous piece of work. Claassen seems aware of the difficulty of covering Björk, sure, but she also knows that she must make the piece her own. The swelling orchestral accompaniment sets a beautifully haunting stage and Claassen approaches the music affectionately, dodging huge splashes of sudden, bracing sound with warm, gauzy presence.

Mitchell’s “Be Cool” follows “Cover Me” with sudden brass shuffle. The work of saxophonist Karolina Strassmayer is particularly notable here, as her shadowing of Claasen gives a little additional oomph to the proceedings.

Whether she’s paying homage to Bessie Smith’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” or exploring her boundaries with an adventurous “Umhome,” Claassen’s innate need to sing ardently infuses every note on this record.

Sing! is just the thing for difficult times and it’s the perfect cure for the information-induced melancholy our hectic world can impose. Claassen’s album is ideal for loud volumes and quiet moments alike, making it a versatile and revitalizing piece of work. This young Dutch jazz diva may well have restored my faith in the cheerfulness of doing what you love and loving what you do – no questions asked.

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