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05/12/14

Kendra Shank & John Stowell
New York Conversations
The Montreux Jazz Label

John Stowell was already well established as a jazz guitarist when, nearly 25 years ago, he met up-and-coming vocalist Kendra Shank in her hometown of Seattle. After Shank migrated east to New York, they began gigging as a duo. Until now, though, they’ve never recorded together. On previous albums, Shank, also an accomplished guitarist, either accompanied herself or called on Ben Monder.

This overdue union was borne out of an impromptu 2011 recording session at the Manhattan studio of sound engineer John Kilgore (whose kinship with Stowell dates to their school days in the 1960s). As Shank explains in the liner notes, “We just did some free improvising, called some tunes and just jammed for a few hours.” So satisfying was the experience that additional, equally unstructured sessions were scheduled, ultimately resulting in the 15 musical conversations collected here.

From the tranquil beauty of their opening “Blue Skies” to the juicy sweetness of the brief, closing “Glad Mango” (one of four completely improvised tracks), this is a thrilling excursion. Whether meandering wordlessly, as on Stowell’s furtive “Throop,” his mysterious “Simple Pleasures” and his ethereal “Silent Photographer,” reimagining the likes of “My Romance,” “Like Someone in Love” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” or simply letting their musical whims carry them where they might, Shank and Stowell are relentlessly adventurous, at last preserving the scintillating rapport of their live performances.

Originally published in April 2014
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