Caswell Sisters: Alive in the Singing Air

Hoosier siblings Sara and Rachel Caswell have lived parallel musical lives, honing their early skills with the same Bloomington teacher, attending Indiana University on full music scholarships and, though violinist Sara is five years vocalist Rachel’s senior, simultaneously participating in the Thelonious Monk Institute’s summertime residency program. Yet while they’ve guested on each other’s albums, it wasn’t until they met pianist Fred Hersch that the pair jointly embarked on a full-length recording.

Three and a half decades into his distinguished career, Hersch has always been notoriously choosy about the vocalists he works with, limiting his unions to the upper-echelon likes of Norma Winstone, Nancy King, Jay Clayton and Meredith d’Ambrosio. Rachel, with her crystalline diction, warm phrasing and intense sense of swing, makes a worthy addition to that elite group. Sara, who keeps feet in both the classical and jazz worlds, proves equally engaging. The addition of her violin to Hersch’s piano, Jeremy Allen’s bass and Bryson Kerr’s drums sounds wholly organic.

Though four standards, including a “Poinciana” that pays vibrant tribute to Ahmad Jamal and a wonderfully free-floating “Bye Bye Blackbird,” number among the 11 tracks, the sisters’ tastes are far more wide-ranging. Twice they dip into the Hersch-Winstone songbook, for the joyous “Song of Life” and tender “A Wish,” and transform King’s “I Sing for You” into an ode to their sisterhood. But the intensity of their kinship, and their profound connection with Hersch, is best exhibited across wordless explorations of Christine Jensen’s “Sweet Adelphi” and “Asiatic Raes,” Sonny Rollins’ dynamic interpretation of Kenny Dorham’s “Lotus Blossom.”