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November 2008

Myriam Alter
Where Is There
Enja/Justin Time

Belgian composer Myriam Alter straddles three musical pathways on Where Is There: jazz, chamber classical and European folk. Jazz remains the stronghold, but the other styles create exoticism and delicate, lyrical beauty that lingers in the ear long after the music stops.

The classical aspect largely rests on Jaques Morelenbaum’s cello—along with Salvatore Bonafede’s piano, the album’s most prominent instrument—which moans through all eight tracks with a studied melancholy. John Ruocco provides the folk flavor, his clarinet displaying tinges of the Jewish and Spanish idioms with which Alter grew up on the sashaying “Still in Love” and “I’m Telling You.” The other musicians (Bonafede, soprano saxophonist Pierre Vaiana, bassist Greg Cohen and drummer Joey Baron) provide the jazz foundation.

Vaiana plays sparsely (with spacious solos on “In Sicily” and “It Could Be There”), leaving the rhythm section to set the pace. It’s a gentle one: Cohen performs even his most assertive bass solo, on “Come With Me,” with tranquility and taste; the always-marvelous Baron frequently imitates hand percussion with the sticks, and on “September 11” delivers some of the most affecting brushwork ever committed to record.

This softness, which bleeds into the classical and folk elements, elevates Where Is There from pretty to exquisite. In addition, the music has a searching quality (as both album and song titles indicate) that adds a layer of introspection—candy for the mind as well as the ears. Alter herself never appears, but the album bearing her name is a magical experience.

Originally published in November 2008
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