Dozens of Ph.D. dissertations will be written examining music created during the first two years of COVID-19. I expect Jeremy Siskind’s Songs of Rebirth will be cited often. A double album of 22 tracks, it’s a chamber-jazz meditation that unfolds like a day-by-day chronicle of the emotional and intellectual travails of life under lockdown, capturing the lethargy, despair, ruminations, and sheer weirdness of the pandemic experience. Featuring his long-standing trio with reed player Lucas Pino and vocalist Nancy Harms, Songs of Rebirth can be absorbed comfortably in one sitting, though its spacious settings and thoughtful lyrics seem better calibrated for smaller doses, say five or six tunes at a time.
The music is conversational in the best possible sense, as the trio interacts with unhurried self-confidence. The lyrics unspool as fully formed thoughts while the songs range widely and Harms makes it all sound utterly natural. The first half, “True Believers,” focuses on songs about transformation, like the ravishing “In Every Moment,” a sublime piano/tenor sax duet sandwiching Harms’ brief, luminous meditation. The second disc, “Cynics and Snags,” focuses more on derailed plans and self-sabotage, though with some pieces, like the inner dialogue “The Drinking Song,” it’s hard to tell illumination from desperation. Running through both discs is “I’d Break Quarantine for You,” a hilarious five-part ode to pandemic love. Will it seem quaint and nostalgic in 10 years, or all too topical? Either way, Off-Broadway should covet a couplet like “Leaving home is a no-no but I long for your touch/Surely Governor Cuomo wouldn’t mind it too much.”
The project concludes with two gems. Pino’s buzzing bass clarinet circles Harms warily on “Forgiveness,” a sad reflection on a missed connection. “Another Birthday” laments the inexorable passage of time, a feeling all too familiar after so months lost to the pandemic.