At a time when it is often difficult to tell the difference between a supposed jazz vocalist and a run-of-the-mill Las Vegas lounge singer, when it comes to an artist like Kendra Shank there is never any question. Listen to her latest album, New York Conversations, a collaboration with guitarist John Stowell, due for an April 8 release. This is a jazz singer who plays her voice the way a Miles plays his trumpet, a Monk his piano, and Stowell is a musical match. They have put together an inventive hour of music that shows what a creative team can do when they have the confidence in each other to let themselves work freely outside the lines.
New York Conversations is not an album for those looking for the ordinary, the safe. This is music pushing the edge, and when you work near the edge, there is always the danger of falling off. Not to worry when it comes to Shank and Stowell. They push; they don’t jump. Of course when your set list includes completely improvised sink-or-swim pieces, you had better be on your game. With the exotic vocal phrasing and rhythmic strains of tracks like “Za-Zoh” and “Glad Mango,” the duo is clearly on the very top of its. As Shank describes the duo’s process in the liner notes, they find themselves “just sitting in silence until one of us hears a sonic idea that leads us down an unfolding, shape-shifting path,” in what she calls “the alchemy of collaboration.”
Still, the joy of inventive collaboration is not limited to the completely improvised pieces. Their original compositions and their work on standards is equally imaginative. Whether the skat opening to Rodgers and Hart’s “My Romance” or the haunting introduction to Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” which opens the album, Stowell and Shank take no prisoners. They work their magic from the songs’ openings to their conclusions.
Shank, an adept looper, uses her skills to add a variety of textures and colors to the performance even in the moment. Stowell, points to her skill “in using a loop station to create multiple voices and harmonies in real time.” Again, the emphasis is on spontaneity.
Original compositions range from the title song, which is simply a playful list of New York City neighborhoods leading to some vocal gyrations which some may find a bit affected, to the sensitive “Ghost,” a haunting lesson from beyond the grave. There is a lot of fine vocalese in Stowell pieces like “Throop” and “Simple Pleasures” with its hints of “Manhattan.”
If you’re looking for a musical experience that is out of the ordinary, New York Conversations is an album you need to hear.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=B00HDOXZL2,B00I2XH42Y]