Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Eliana Tomkins


by Ian Mann

August 16, 2006


Feminine sensuality that captures the longings and languors of love.

This intriguing release by singer Eliana Tomkins sees her setting the words of award winning poet Carol Ann Duffy to music. The album is based on Duffy’s book “Rapture”, a collection of fifty-two love poems which chart the journey of a love affair through the seasons. Tomkins has adapted ten of these as the base for the songs on the album and the result is a highly literate record sung by Tomkins with a profound sense of involvement and with some fine playing from an all star band of accompanists.

Tomkins has a clear, pure voice and her clear and very English enunciation means that you can hear every word. Her jazz phrasing is excellent and she also imbues the songs with a very feminine sensuality and captures the longings and languors of love. Many of the arrangements have a dream like quality about them and the sympathetic playing of the musicians only serves to heighten the mood.

The band features instrumentalists of the calibre of trumpeter Guy Barker and saxophonist Peter King. Both contribute a number of excellent solos throughout the album. However they never outshine the vocalist and keep their solos short and tasteful. Barker makes good use of the mute and King makes a rare appearance on soprano as well as his more usual alto. Geoff Castle shows a delicate touch on piano, quite a contrast to his rip-roaring keyboard playing in his Nucleus days. Drummer Ralph Salmins can also be a powerful performer, but proves to be a subtle and sympathetic accompanist here and he is well supported by bassist Mario Castronari.

There are also contributions from guitarist Nikolaj Bloch and from the excellent cellist Ben Davis whose melancholy tones are particularly effective on “Your Move”.

Although much of the material is in a reflective vein there are still up-tempo numbers such as the joyous “Name” and the atmospheric “Chinatown”. The closing “December Song” is the sort big ballad that could easily be a surprise hit if given sufficient airplay on Radio 2, especially at Christmas.

Despite the clarity of Tomkin’s diction it is unfortunate that Duffy’s lyrics are not reproduced on the CD insert as this would enhance the listener’s enjoyment of the album. However, I suspect that this may be for copyright or legal reasons and that the book’s publishers Picador have not given sanction for this despite allowing the book’s jacket design to be adapted for the album cover.

This is a well-crafted album and an excellent mood piece. It is less austere and more accessible than other poetry and music projects by artists such as Mike and Kate Westbrook or Michael Mantler.

With some of the music appearing in a Radio 4 afternoon play Eliana Tomkins has attracted non-jazz listeners, and “Rapture” has already received a degree of commercial success. This is well deserved for a record that is immaculately sung, played, arranged and produced.

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