‘Young At Heart’ – Ida Sand

IdaSand

POTENTIALLY sending seasoned Neil Young fans running for cover, Swedish songstress Ida Sand delves into the prolific songbook of the seminal Canadian singer/songwriter in this collection of thirteen jazz-inflected soft-rock interpretations.

But for those of us with only a vague recollection of Young’s influential early 1970s albums Harvest Moon and After the Gold Rush, or none at all, Sand’s soulful voice and piano celebrate selections from his classic output with attractive, sympathetic poise. Aided by a particularly polished core band – Jesper Nordenström (keyboards), Ola Gustafsson (guitars), Dan Berglund (acoustic bass), Christer Jansson (drums, percussion) – her guests include compatriot mentor (and producer here), trombonist/vocalist Nils Landgren.

Ida Sand explains that she places at least as much importance on lyrics as melodies, and has sought to retain the integrity of each of the chosen songs. That said, the richness and pitch of her voice (influenced by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Etta James), when compared to Young’s high range, colour the sound in a markedly different way; and gone is the prominent acoustic guitar timbre so characteristic of that transitional ’60s/’70s era. But what does remain is the timeless, innate strength of Neil Young’s writing, communicated in fresh, contemporary arrangements.

The album’s rock thread is maintained throughout by Ola Gustafsson’s beautifully sustained/effected electric guitars, as in opener Cinammon Girl – and there are frequent imaginative textures such as Dan Berglund’s crunchy arco bass and the wide tremolo of Jesper Nordenström’s Fender Rhodes (confirming that these are, by no means, insipid covers). Pondering the decades of musical ‘water under the bridge’ since these songs first saw light, there’s distinct post-prog, melancholic grandeur in Sand’s rendition of Hey Hey, My My; and the pop-soul ballad feel of Harvest Moon is a long way down the road from the original’s folksiness, especially with Per Johansson’s silky tenor sax interludes.

Other highlights include Ohio, translating Neil Young’s rawness into a fuller, electronic sound embellished by Nils Landgren’s echoic, Groove Armada-like trombone; and the mellow, organ-sustained simplicity of Helpless evokes the remnants of the golden ’60s. Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock is infectious, with strong backing vocals, flamboyant wah-wah guitar and wailing Hammond; and Crosby Stills Nash & Young number Sea of Madness is carried well by Sand’s impassioned vocal and full band rock-out.

Whether or not you have Young ‘at heart’, this is an unexpectedly fine release, and great fair-weather driving music – so retract the sunroof, turn up the volume… and hit the gas!

Released 23 March 2015, details and audio samples can be found at ACT Music.

 

Ida Sand vocals, piano
Jesper Nordenström keyboards
Ola Gustafsson guitars
Dan Berglund acoustic bass
Christer Jansson drums, percussion
with
Bo Sundström vocals
Nils Landgren trombone, vocals,
Per Texas Johansson tenor saxophone
Sven Lindvall electric bass
André Monde de Lang background vocals
Paris Renita background vocals

ACT Music – 9729-1 (2015)

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‘Ana’ – Emilia Mårtensson

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MUSICAL DISCOVERIES are, I believe, waymarkers on a lifetime’s journey of appreciation and enjoyment of the artistic creativity that those blessed with a talent bestow upon us. Once experienced, they stay with us forever, evoking memories of the first unexpected rush of exhilaration that touched our soul.

In 2010, I chanced upon a debut release (Kairos Moment) by hitherto unknown contemporary jazz ensemble, Kairos 4tet. Led by indomitable saxophonist Adam Waldmann, their originality spoke loudly and clearly to me – and amongst the instrumental energy, a jazz vocalist delivered a single heartfelt ballad, Unresolved. Transfixed by its depth and beauty, I went on to discover this solo artist’s own debut album (And So It Goes… with pianist Barry Green) as well as appearances on subsequent Kairos albums and intimate piano-accompanied performances in London and Manchester.

Unsurprisingly, Emilia Mårtensson is rapidly making a name for herself on the London jazz circuit and beyond. A grounding in the folksongs of her native Sweden and standards of the leading ladies of jazz, combined with an admiration for a singer-songwriter genre that includes Paul Simon, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, has resulted in a meltingly gorgeous voice characterised by sincerity, warmth, dynamic control and endearingly crisp Anglo-Swedish diction.

Masterminded by producers Rory Simmons and Alex Bonney, this second solo release features a particularly inventive instrumental line-up, the spacial detail of which complements and colours Mårtensson’s sensitive approach so appropriately. As before, Barry Green’s expressive and intuitive piano is the perfect match for Emilia’s velvety tones. Rhythmic and ornamental zest is provided via a refreshing range of timbres from Brazilian percussionist Adrian Adewale; and bringing a deep sense of equilibrium is bassist Sam Lasserson. Finally, fashioning the most wonderfully interwoven textures on half of the album’s ten tracks are the Fable String Quartet, whose precision and integrality with this project are outstanding.

Illustrating all of this is opening number Harvest Moon, written by Jamie Doe, Emilia’s soft vocals floating above a gently bubbling momentum. In profound dedication to her grandmother, Ana is communicated with love (Soft, at night, her hand on mine, she says, “Close your eyes before you open up your mind”), Barry Green decorously enhancing the affectionate mood over Sam Crowe’s delicate string arrangement. Barnaby Keen’s Learnt from Love is a standout, the distinctive chord progressions and melody of the chorus, in particular, still lodged in my mind from a live first hearing last July; and Emilia’s voice also displays a brighter, stronger edge.

Tomorrow Can Wait is perfect for Mårtensson, the heart-on-sleeve poignancy of writer Emine Pirhason’s verses emphasised by the initial sparseness of solo piano, and Emilia’s digitally-layered harmonies are used to great effect here, suggesting her folk roots. Traditional Swedish folksong is represented by bass/percussion-accompanied När Som Jag Var På Mitt Adertonde År; and Black Narcissus Music, Joe Henderson’s familiar tune set to Emilia Mårtensson’s skilfully-intoned words, is interpreted breezily courtesy of a great Rory Simmons string arrangement which melds perfectly with the instrumental trio.

Paul Simon’s Everything Put Together Falls Apart comes so naturally to Mårtensson before Green and co. run with it in a jaunty, bluesy direction. Moffi’s Song confirms her own songwriting prowess, its string-led arrangement imbuing this tribute to her grandfather with the feel of an old jazz classic; and to close, a folksy unaccompanied miniature, Vackra Människa – the translation, ‘beautiful person’, so very fitting for this accomplished singer.

Released on 7 April 2014 (in Babel Label’s 20th anniversary year), Ana is available here … a musical discovery awaits.

Video: The Making of Ana
Video: Harvest Moon


Emilia Mårtensson
 voice
Barry Green piano
Sam Lasserson double bass
Adriano Adewale percussion

The Fable String Quartet
Kit Massey violin
Paloma Deike violin
Becky Hopkin viola
Natalie Rozario cello

Babel Label – BDV14126 (2014)