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Bill Kwan: No Ordinary Love: The Music of Sade (Ikeda)

A review of the vocalist's tribute album

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Bill Kwan: No Ordinary Love: The Music of Sade
The cover of No Ordinary Love: The Music of Sade by Bill Kwan

Bill Kwan flew through medical school at USC, hung out a shingle as a dermatologist, then decided in middle age to go for broke, for his love of singing. This odd trajectory’s probably why he sounds so agreeably odd. It took me a few turns through No Ordinary Love before I expected him not to phrase like Sade, when phrasing like her is of course quite beside the point.  

Kwan—backed by ringers like trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, keyboardist Kevin Hays, and guitarist/bassist Tony Scherr—doesn’t show much range or punch, but he’s mastered a supple and measured, never stiff, mic intimacy. “This love is far and wide,” he declaims in “Flower of the Universe,” and you forget Sade, forget the magnificent absurdity of a universal flower, since he’s got “far and wide” down to a specific “you” and “you” alone; anything can sprout from fecund simplicity. Heavy concepts collapse, gently, into the personable—even a far-flung “King of Sorrow,” with its protagonist “crying everyone’s tears” and paying “for all my future sins.”

“Jezebel” takes the intimacy down to a near-whisper, from which even the most delicate of builds resounds as if it were bouncing off a Giza pyramid. He beckons from a corner and you sit down, while he confesses, softly, not to sins, which are wants burdened with shames, but to wants and needs mostly humanly confused; desires, regrets, a few thoughts on how to build from the rubble. There’s his secret. You open, and he comes in.

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