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Viktoria Tolstoy

Pictures Of Me


by Ian Mann

December 21, 2006


Tolstoy's blend of jazz, pop, soul and blues influences has every chance of being the recipe for international crossover success.

The Munich based ACT Company is probably best known as the label for which the Swedish jazz superstars EST record. If this album is anything to go by their compatriot Viktoria Tolstoy has every chance of joining them in the international bestseller lists. Indeed, vocalist Tolstoy has worked with Esbjorn Svensson in the past and is something of a pop star in her native country. To underline this point she has even worked with former ABBA keyboards man Benny Andersson.

Tolstoy’s third album for the label features five originals written by her musical collaborators and eight songs from quality contemporary writers ranging from Paul Simon, Van Morrison and Peter Gabriel to Stevie Wonder, Prince and Seal.

Tolstoy has a beautiful crystal clear voice but more than that she has a talent for interpretation and authentic jazz phrasing. Together it all adds up to a heady jazz-pop brew that has an excellent chance of reaching out to a wide audience. She is helped greatly by her arrangers Jacob Karlzon, Wolfgang Kafer and Lars Danielsson. Their impeccable arrangements complement her voice perfectly and add a lustrous sheen to the album. Danielsson is a pivotal figure as he also does an excellent job in the producer’s chair as well as contributing cello on three tracks. He also collaborates as a writer on some of the album’s original material.

Tolstoy’s versions of the outside material are excellent. Most were culled from her own record collection and cover a wide variety of idioms and influences. Paul Simon’s “Have a Good Time” is given a sophisticated blues arrangement and sounds very worldly wise and urban. By way of contrast Prince’s “Te Amo Corazon” gets the full slinky and seductive bossa nova treatment and swings effortlessly. The other Prince song “Strollin’” is taken at a soulful mid tempo and features an excellent piano solo from Jacob Karlzon who is outstanding throughout.

Tolstoy gets flirtatious on “Kiss That Frog” one of Peter Gabriel’s sexual metaphor songs in the mould of the better-known “Sledgehammer”. For one of British rock’s premier intellectuals Gabriel is a dirty old bugger sometimes. I put it down to all that communal masturbation after lights out in the dorm at Charterhouse.

It’s back to the blues for Seal’s “Don’t Make Me Wait” arguably the album’s outstanding track. Tolstoy’s blues/soul vocal shows her at her most expressive and is perfectly offset by the admirable Karlzon at the piano.

Stevie Wonder’s “Can’t Help It” is less distinguished but it’s shuffling beat allows bassist Hans Andersson and drummer Peter Danemo to show their abilities. Both offer apposite and sympathetic support throughout the album. On this track percussionist Xavier Desandre Navarre adds a little extra exotica.

Van Morrison’s “The Way Young Lovers Do” is taken at a swirling high tempo with Karlzon again outstanding. It’s more controlled than the horn enlivened original-but not too much.

“Old And Wise” by Eric Woolfson and Alan Parsons closes the album on a suitably elegiac note. It’s the only “outside” song that approaches ballad territory. In fact the albums more reflective moments come courtesy of the originals.

The opening “Women Of Santiago” by Lars Danielsson and Caecilie Norby has been criticised elsewhere for mawkishness. I didn’t find it particularly so and found that it engaged my attention from the outset.

“South” with music by Karlzon and a lyric by Tolstoy’s husband Per Holknekt is as arresting as anything else on the album. Tolstoy’s soaring, yearning vocal catches the mood of the piece perfectly.

The wistful “Two Sails” by Danielsson and Norby incorporates the Garbarek like tenor of Tore Brunborg and a tasteful string arrangement by Danielsson.

“Absentee” by Karlzon and Holknekt is altogether darker with a powerful vocal performance from Tolstoy perfectly complemented by the sombre string arrangements of Wolfgang Kafer.

“Green Little Butterfly” again by Danielsson and Norby is a paean to nature. This too could be subjected to accusations of mawkishness but the shimmering beauty of the arrangement saves the day.

“Pictures Of Me” may be too “poppy” for hard line jazz followers but nevertheless it is a very classy record with it’s impeccable singing and playing complemented by top quality arrangements. Tolstoy sings with great clarity and conviction and seems to radiate a genuine star quality. This record is likely to appeal to many listeners in and beyond the jazz camp. Tolstoy’s blend of jazz, pop, soul and blues influences has every chance of being the recipe for international crossover success.

Finally, in case you were wondering about the name, yes she is the great great granddaughter of Leo Tolstoy.

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