The pairing of an eminent jazz artist with an equally distinguished author isn’t unprecedented. Nine years ago, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro shaped several artful songs for pal Stacey Kent’s Breakfast on the Morning Tram. But pianist Renee Rosnes’ teaming with David Hajdu, one of the sharpest music and culture observers around, is deeper, filling a complete album, more fully collaborative—Rosnes wrote all of the music—and expansive, with four top-drawer singers divvying up the 11-track playlist. René Marie, Janis Siegel, Karen Oberlin, and Darius de Haas are joined by Rosnes, bassist Sean Smith, drummer Carl Allen, percussionist Rogerio Boccato, clarinetist Ken Peplowski, and saxophonists Steve Wilson and Seamus Blake.
As with Ishiguro, Hajdu’s lyric-writing skills are wide-ranging, as acute on tender love songs and playful tunes as on crafty social commentary. All are exceptionally good. The session opens with Marie on the wonderfully allegorical “A Tiny Seed,” concerning an autocratic king and the building of a wall; Marie also helms “Little Pearl,” a peaceful ode to planet earth. The others steer three tracks each. Brightest among the gems: “I Used to Like to Draw,” tracing the loss of childhood’s creative uninhibitedness, and the title track, pondering the unpredictability of life’s flow, both featuring Siegel; the Sondheim-worthy “I Like Pie,” with Oberlin tallying worldly woes, then countering such evils with home-baked treats; and the de Haas-led “Trotsky in Mexico,” a stunning portrait of the exiled Russian revolutionary’s triangular relationship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in the late 1930s.