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Joanna Wallfisch : Gardens in My Mind

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On last year’s commendably challenging The Origin of Adjustable Things, pianist Dan Tepfer expertly prodded vocalist Joanna Wallfisch to venture beyond the near-baroque quietude that defines her core sound (and reveals her classical training). For the more complex, more wide-ranging and even more satisfying Gardens in My Mind, Tepfer returns and fills essentially the same vital function. But he has help. When a singer records “with strings,” the standard expectation is for lush, silken arrangements. Since Wallfisch has a well-established history of defying expectations, it’s hardly surprising that her union with the London-based Sacconi Quartet-violinists Ben Hancox and Hannah Dawson, violist Robin Ashwell and cellist Pierre Doumenge-is anything but standard.

Across 14 tracks, mostly Wallfisch originals (with judiciously chosen Joni Mitchell and Tim Buckley covers in the mix), she again serves as the tranquil anchor, with Tepfer and the quartet propelling the narrative while pushing her to color outside the lines. The effect is bold, dramatic and powerful, often recalling Bernard Herrmann’s groundbreaking score for Psycho. True to the album’s title, the songs represent a mixed bouquet, though several may engender bouts of déjà vu-seven pieces, here fully reimagined, appear on The Origin of Adjustable Things. Among the new compositions: “Moons of Jupiter,” plump with similes as it traces the arc of a failed relationship; the harsher, harder separation of “Distant Shore”; and the jaunty title track, shaping wilderness reveries to combat urban oppression.

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