by Ian Mann
March 19, 2020
An intelligent, literate record that embraces a variety of musical genres but remains stubbornly unclassifiable and thoroughly distinctive.
“Within You Is A World Of Spring”
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4746)
Alice Zawadzki – vocals, violin, piano, Fred Thomas – drums, piano, tenor banjo, percussion, organ, Rob Luft – guitar, Misha Mullov-Abbado – double bass, Hyelim Kim – taegum,
Simmy Singh – violin, Laura Senior – violin, Lucy Nolan – viola, Peggy Nolan – cello
Released in late 2019 “Within You Is A World Of Spring” represents the keenly anticipated follow up to Zawadzki’s 2014 début for Whirlwind Recordings, the much acclaimed “China Lane”.
Vocalist, violinist and songwriter Alice Zawadzki studied classical violin at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester before moving to London to further her studies by completing a course in jazz singing and composition at the Royal Academy of Music.
A highly versatile artist Zawadzki is equally at home in the jazz and classical spheres and has featured as a classical soloist on both violin and voice. In the jazz world she has worked with some of the best young musicians on the London and Manchester scenes, among them pianist Kit Downes, guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Jon Scott, her quartet at an EFG London Jazz Festival performance that I was lucky enough to see at the Green Note in Camden in 2012, even before the release of “China Lane”. These three were later to constitute the core group on that album.
As a sidewoman Zawadzki has worked with guitarist Moss Freed’s Moss Project, trombonist Raph Clarkson’s Dissolute Society and also with ensembles led by trumpeter Andre Canniere and saxophonist Phil Meadows.
Zawadzki’s music also includes folk and world music elements and this latest album is also strongly influenced by poetry, literature and the beauty of nature. It’s an intelligent, literate record that embraces a variety of musical genres but remains stubbornly unclassifiable and thoroughly distinctive.
The opening title track is a typically multi-faceted composition with lyrics inspired by a poem by the Danish author Emil Aarestrup. The words are suitably poetic - “within you is a world of spring, that soulful chaotic season” - and the music reflects the words, sometimes dark and turbulent, reflecting the heady tumult of the season, as well as its beauty. Harshly bowed violin and powerful drumming contrasts with Zawadzki’s pure, Joni Mitchell style vocals as the piece ebbs and flows. Multi-instrumentalist Fred Thomas also plays his part on piano, as does Mullov-Abbado at the bass but it’s Luft’s dramatic guitar solo, which finds him deploying his range of effects superbly, that threatens to steal the show.
Like a number of other London based jazz musicians, among them singers Ian Shaw and Georgia Mancio, Zawadzki worked in the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. The experience had a profound effect on her and this is chronicled in the song “God’s Children”, a haunting ballad which features Zawadzki singing her own words with great profundity and a folk like purity, while stretching the lines in the manner of a jazz vocalist. Another rich and colourful arrangement includes superb contributions from Thomas and Mullov-Abbado with Luft again sprinkling showers of sonic fairy dust.
The sensuous “Superior Virtue” tells the tale of a “beautiful, unfulfilled encounter” and demonstrates Zawadzki’s abilities with the violin bow, alongside a typically haunting vocal. Thomas is featured on an ancient pump organ, the eerily wheezing sounds of which form an integral part of the arrangement. Besides his role as a multi-instrumentalist Thomas is also part of a production team that includes Zawadzki, Sam Crowe and engineers Alex Killpartrick and Frank Merritt. Zawadzki is quick to praise Killpartrick for his part in a mix that brings out the full mystery and beauty of the arrangements - “Alex’s instincts for a luminous, textural, almost antiphonal mix brought the music alive in ways I couldn’t have imagined” she told Jane Cornwell of Jazzwise Magazine.
“Es Verdad” features Spanish lyrics based on the poem by Federico Garcia Lorca and commences with Zawadzki singing solo, prior to the addition of strings, bass, drums and eventually guitar. The song is given a playful, whimsical treatment, with Zawadzki the violinist adding quotes from the traditional Irish tune “Rakish Paddy”.
Credited to Zawadzki, Kim and Luft the richly atmospheric and evocative “The Woods” features the haunting sounds of Hyelim Kim on taegum, the side-blown Korean bamboo flute. Zawadzki speaks her words as a poem, her recitative punctuated by ambient guitar generated soundwashes and Kim’s improvisations on taegum. “Hyelim is an incredible improviser” enthuses Zawadzki. The rich lyrical imagery with its roots in nature suggest that this a companion to the Stravinsky inspired title track, the piece from which all the other music on the album grew.
“Keeper” is a love song of sorts, addressing the subjects of romantic love, the passage of time and change. It begins as a simple voice and piano arrangement with subtle texturing, but later acquires an epic grandeur as Luft’s guitar takes soaring flight. But in Zawadzki’s world nothing is predictable and an unexpected dynamic contrast provides us with a melodic double bass solo from Mullov-Abbado before the leader’s voice returns once more.
The album’s only instrumental is the suitably labyrinthine “Twisty Moon”, which Zawadzki describes as “an overture of miscellaneous themes from a detective movie”. Zawadzki features on violin and wordless vocals as the piece explores a variety of melodies in different styles, evoking a noirish but whimsical quality. Luft delivers a flowing guitar solo, gliding gracefully above the patter of Thomas’ drums and the deep undertow of Mullov-Abbado’s bass.
The album closes with “O Mio Amore”, which despite the Italian title features an English lyric addressing the subject of a couple separated by the width of the Atlantic. Sensuous and haunting it has the feel of a folk song about it and ends the album on a hopeful note.
“Within You Is A World Of Spring” is a superb album and very much an expression of Zawadzki’s unique artistic vision. She sings with passion, clarity and eloquence throughout, investing the lyrics with the emotion and gravitas that they deserve. She also makes a substantial instrumental contribution, particularly on violin.
But despite being such a personal work the recording also represents a superb team effort with the core group of Thomas, Luft and Mullov-Abbado all making vital and substantial contributions to the success of the music. They bring depth, colour and texture to a brilliant and evocative set of arrangements, aided and abetted by the production team, whose excellent contribution has already been discussed.
Last but not least there is the string quartet, all fiends of Zawadzki’s from her RNCM days. They blend seamlessly and organically into the arrangements and there is never the sense that we are listening to a ‘jazz group plus string quartet’.
Indeed in Zawadzki’s singular world different styles of music come together to create something quite “sui generis”, a sound that is both accessible and exotic and capable of appealing to a broad cross section of discerning listeners.
By happy coincidence this review appears on the day that Alice Zawadzki was nominated in the “Jazz Vocalist of the Year” section of the 2020 Jazz FM Awards. Congratulations, Alice. Very richly deserved.
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