by Ian Mann
April 15, 2021
A typically sophisticated and classy piece of work from Foster. The skill and care that has gone into these thoughtful and inventive arrangements is apparent throughout the recording.
Clare Foster – vocals, Shanti Paul Jayasinha – cello, trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion, John Crawford – Fender Rhodes, Andres Lafone – electric bass, tamboril, Andres Ticino – drums, percussion, tamboril, Guillermo Hill – guitar, tamboril
with guests Neil Angilley – fender Rhodes (track 11), Sue Jarvis – voice (11), Davide Giovannini – backing vocals (4), Mick Foster – alto, tenor & baritone saxes, bass clarinet (1, 4, 7, 12), Fayyaz Virgi - trombone (4,10), Karen Tweed – accordion (2)
Way back in 2006 I reviewed vocalist Clare Foster’s album “The Music and I”, at that time her fourth album release.
Foster has been a recording artist since 1993, when she made her début with an album that saw her adding her own lyrics to a selection of Wayne Shorter compositions.
Fast forward to 2021 and “Kumbhaka”, Foster’s eighth album, first released in December 2020.
The title comes from a word meaning “the space between each breath” and Foster includes a quote from the Austrian author and psychiatrist Victor E. Frankl on the album packaging;
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.
Of the music itself Foster states;
“This album came about through a great love of Jazz and Latin American music. Songs from the Great American Song book and some original compositions have been arranged in 15 different grooves from South America and Spain. Each track has its own unique place in my heart”.
The programme features fifteen songs, predominately jazz standards, innovatively arranged by Foster and her co-arranger Shanti Paul Jayasinha in a variety of Latin styles. The core band features Foster and Jayasinha plus a quartet of London based musicians, all of them hugely accomplished exponents of Latin music – pianist John Crawford, bassist Andres Lafone, drummer / percussionist Andres Ticino and guitarist Guillermo Hill.
The album commences with an arrangement of the song “Who Will Buy?”, performed in the style of a curalao, paced by Ticino on cajon and with a succinct trumpet solo from Jayasinha. Foster, always a classy and sophisticated vocalist, sings with fluency and confidence, overdubbing her own backing vocals.
The Foster / Jayasinha original “Baiao Na Praia” represents an example of the baiao style and is delivered at a frenetic pace with Foster delivering the quick-fire lyric with considerable brio. Instrumental solos come from Jayasinha on trumpet and Crawford on Rhodes, with Foster also adding a wordless vocal episode and providing her own backing vocals. The accordion of guest musician Karen Tweed also plays a significant part in the arrangement and the overall feeling is one of carnival and celebration.
Hoagy Carmichael’s enduringly popular “I Get Along Without You Very Well” is delivered in the style of a bolero, in an innovative arrangement featuring a wistful vocal from Foster and with Crawford’s Rhodes and Ticino’s percussion both playing prominent roles.
The mood lightens and the pace quickens with a rumba/salsa arrangement of the jazz standard “I Only Have Eyes For You”. Foster’s sassy vocals are again supplemented by Rhodes, bass and percussion, plus guest Davide Giovannini’s backing vocals. The second half of the piece pairs wordless vocals with a ‘mini horn section’ featuring Jayasinha’s trumpet alongside the horns of guest musicians Mick Foster (baritone sax) and Fayyaz Virgi (trombone).
“Singing In The Rain” appears as a bossa nova, almost sounding as if it could have been written by Antonio Carlos Jobim. The song sounds perfectly natural in this format with Foster’s relaxed vocals augmented by Hill’s nimble acoustic guitar solo.
“Gone With The Wind” is performed as a bulerias with Hill’s guitar again the featured solo instrument, this time with an appropriate flamenco tinge.
“No Moon At All” is delivered in the xote style with Foster’s seductive vocals complemented by the slinky sounds of Mick Foster’s bass clarinet and the sly funk of Crawford’s Fender Rhodes. Crawford is a skilled soloist and a superb accompanist, but is also a bandleader in his own right.
Voice and Rhodes introduce “Can’t Help Singing”, which is delivered in the chacarera style, gradually increasing in pace with the addition of guitar, bass and percussion. The main instrumental solo comes from Crawford on Rhodes.
The percussion driven candombe “I’ll Remember April” sees an increase in pace with several of the musicians doubling on tamboril. There’s a joyousness about the performance that takes its cue from Foster’s vocal, with instrumental solos coming from Hill on guitar and Crawford on Rhodes, plus a wordless vocal episode from Foster.
“Stairway To The Stars” embraces the ijexa idiom with the core group augmented by Virgi’s trombone. Indeed it’s the guest who is the featured soloist, performing with great warmth and fluency.
After a lengthy string of Latin interpretations of jazz standards there’s a return to original material with the samba “Quem Canta Os Males Espanta”, written by Foster, which teams her English lyrics with Portuguese words penned by Sue Jarvis, who also adds backing vocals. The mood is bright, breezy and celebratory, the title translating as “Those That Sing Send Their Troubles Away”. The joyousness of the performances, by both singers and instrumentalists, including guest Neil Angilley on Rhodes, reflects this precept.
The Rogers & Hart composition “There’s A Small Hotel” becomes even more exotic when interpreted in the maracatu style, with guitarist Hill the featured instrumental soloist.
Michel Legrand’s “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?” becomes an intimate milonga, retaining all the romance and sophistication of the song thanks to Foster’s warmly conversational vocal allied to Crawford’s seductive ‘Riders On The Storm’ style Rhodes solo.
A bomba style version of Cole Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things” increases the energy levels once more with Jayasinha’s exuberant, brassy trumpet prominent in the arrangement. There’s also something of a percussion feature for the consistently impressive Ticino. Indeed the entire rhythm section of Ticino, Lafone and Crawford impress throughout, moving seamlessly between the multitudinous variety of Latin styles. The performance also includes a ‘vocalese’ section, with additional lyrics co-written by Foster and Jayasinha supplementing Porter’s words.
Finally we hear Foster’s own “The Silent Space” a danzon dedicated to the memory of Foster’s late mother. A heartfelt lyric and a sincere vocal delivery is framed by an arrangement featuring the melancholic but soulful sound of Jayasinha’s cello, this allied to the sympathetic support of that flexible and intelligent rhythm section.
“Kumbhaka” is a typically sophisticated and classy piece of work from Foster and the skill and care that has gone into these thoughtful and inventive arrangements is apparent throughout the recording. It’s an album that is very much a labour of love, something typified by the intensely personal nature of the self-penned final track.
Foster sings with great assurance throughout and the support that she receives from both the core group and from the numerous guest musicians is exemplary. One suspects that these arrangements would also translate well into live performance at some later date. The singers and musicians are well served by engineer Andrew Tullock, who delivers a pinpoint mix.
In truth “Kumbhaka” is a disc that is a little too close to the mainstream for my personal tastes, but there’s no denying that it’s a highly accomplished recording, made with care, skill and inventiveness, and also that it is an album capable of appealing to a wide array of listeners.
“Kumbhaka” is available via Foster’s Bandcamp page;