Vocalist, songwriter and poet Suzi Stern hails from the live music capital of the world, Austin Texas. Stern is a published poet and lyricist and has written words to numerous contemporary and classic jazz compositions such as Denny Zeitlin’s “Quiet Now,” Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus” and Joshua Redman’s “Hide and Seek,” which have been recorded by artists worldwide. Most recently her lyrics have been published in the Bill Evans Fake Book (Hal Leonard). Stern’s musical colleagues and collaborators have been varied and show her wide ability to work in various musical genres and includes artist such as: Denny Zeitlin, David Friesen, Jerry Hahn, Leroy Vinegar, Jessica Williams, Sheila Jordan, Jay Clayton, Peggy Stern, Stefan Karlsson, Alan Jones, Randy Porter, John Stowell, Arjen Gorter, Bobby Militello, and the late great Joe Henderson, Mal Waldron, Bud Shank and Doug Hall.
Stern has released 7 CDs on various labels, Viewpoint Records, Aardvark Records and Bus Biscuit Records. Stern’s latest release, Romancing the Dark, is a collection of her own original compositions, lyrics and arrangements that reaches out of the jazz idiom, for which she is known. Stern’s singing has been a major part of Austin’s jazz community for years and she is known for her creative interpretations of well-worn standards and pop tunes. The music on Romancing the Dark keeps a strong foundation of the well-known jazz compositional techniques, feels and group interactions, but it borrows from many styles to yield a well-conceived and flowing collection of tunes that is both engaging and enjoyable. The CD has a long list of guest performers, but the core unit is held by: George Oldziey on piano, accordion and percussion, Paul Unger on acoustic bass and Steve Schwelling on drums and percussion.
“Firefly” begins the romance with a beautiful and subtle waltz ballad that has Stern’s clear tone and diction coupled with a haunting cello line by Douglas Harvey that is an interweaving counterpoint throughout Sterns melodic statement. Oldziey captures the subtlety of the moment with his piano solo that gives way to a beautifully played cello solo leading to the climax and the final verse. Stern’s lyrics are certainly poetic and the accompanying booklet really allows the listener to understand and appreciate the true talent and deeper meanings of the lyrics.
“Sounds are Louder in the Dark” has Stern’s voice accompanied by a very creative string arrangement for string quartet with percussion by Oldziey. With staccato jabs and pizzicato plucks, the strings create an energetic pad for Sterns poignant lyrics.
The form continues to evolve the theme with more sonic colors and many techniques that recall the great string quartets of the twenty and twenty-first century. Stern’s phrasing is always clear and in accord with the musical environment she is singing in, never over dramatic, but keeping the energy of the melody moving forward.
“Tango for Tina” is another highlight among this collection of ballad and mid-tempo songs. The pulse is clear, but still maintains a freeness that allows Sterns voice to float in and out of each phrase with grace and elegance. Oldziey contributes nice accordion sounds with violinist James Anderson playing musical commentary to Stern’s vocal phrases. Oldziey again captures the essence of the tune in his solo that leads to Anderson’s soaring violin solo. Stern’s musical style pallet is wide and this flowing heartfelt tango is a testament to her wide reaching command of many styles and her ability to match a musical mood to the feeling of her words.
Overall, if there was a genre called art-jazz this wonderful offering would certainly fit that bill. A delightful musical journey filled with surprises around every corner, definitely a fit for a jazz listener who enjoys a bit of adventure, but not too far off the followed path.
Tracks: Firefly, Romancing the Dark, Sounds Are Louder in the Dark, Hymn, Air, Tango for Tina, Sleepwalking Girl, Deeper Quiet, Moth, Haunted Heart, Snow Explorers
Players: Suzi Stern: voice and percussion; George Oldziey (pronounced O.Jay): piano, accordion, percussion; Paul Unger: acoustic bass; James Anderson: violin; Steve Schwelling: drums, percussion; with: Douglas Harvey: cello; James Desautels (pronounced Desaw-tay): violin; Helen Bravenec: violin; Jason Elinoff: viola; Mike Sailors: trumpet; John Mills: clarinet; Randy Zimmerman: trombone; Mitch Watkins: guitar; Bruce Saunders: guitar; Kris Afflerbaugh (pronounced Affler-bah): acoustic bass (#6); Wayne Salzmann: drums.