Love Spook - review by Don Williamson
Don Williamson for JazzReview
Katie Bull has already released one CD, last year's Conversations With The Jokers. However, her rules-breaking attitude toward much of the material on Love Spook creates the impression that this is a debut album.
Katie Bull isn't one to repeat herself. Instead, she considers each song without preconceptions and with a sense of whimsy and wonder.
The same type of whimsy and wonder, childlike in innocence and refreshing in creativity, can be found on all of Matt Wilson's CDs as well. When you compound all of that fun-making by including Bull and Wilson on the same CD, anything can happen. Interestingly, Wilson is described on the cover of the CD as playing "percussion," which, even though less restrictive than the title of "drummer," doesn't begin to cover the range of sounds that Wilson applies to the occasion.
On "Connection Rag," which describes sonic and emotional disconnect through fractured meter and discordant piano chopping, we find Bull singing "Another day of no connection to you…/Whoops gotta run./Ships passing in the night…/I still love you, where did you go?" And we hear Wilson's quacking duck calls and his ringing bicycle bells and his twirling New Year's Eve noisemakers, and he pretty much lets the initially predictable rhythm lapse into unpredictability. A Bull original, "Connection Rag" is consistent with the sentiment that Bull intends to convey, despite the misleading irony of its title. But it doesn't typify the songs of Love Spook any more than does the standard "I Only Have Eyes."
On track after track, Bull adopts an attitude toward each song after considering its lyrics and their meaning, and she allows its spirit guide her interpretation. In fact, as the CD progresses, it becomes evident that Bull's range is much wider than at first it seems. She broadens her vocal intervals wildly and surprisingly on "Deer Run" when it occurs to her to suggest swooping climbs and vertiginous descents even though she sings in a fairly narrow range until then. Cookie-cutter approaches are for less imaginative singers.
The idea for recording Love Spook originated in a New York City loft gig with Wilson, pianist Frank Kimbrough and bassist Martin Wind. The results were so successful, the empathy so gratifying, that Wilson suggested they record some of Bull's music from that night. Now they have…and more. Bull has intermingled standards with songs stemming from her own wacky perspective. Even the standards don't remain sacrosanct, though.
The closest Bull comes to a straightforward performance of standards is her beautiful exposition of "On A Clear Day," which she sings without adornment or humor or improvisation, marveling instead in the song's intervals and visual lyrics. Still, Bull not only sustains the notes, but she burnishes them with a purity of tone attaining variations of volume and timbre even as the pitch remains fixed. But then there's "My Favorite Things," the title of which Bull takes literally as she briefly catalogs some of her favorite things in a modally based introduction before she settles down into naming the favorite things that Rodgers and Hammerstein imagined for the von Trapp family. Beginning with full awareness of the jazz references that the song conjures, especially McCoy Tyner's work with John Coltrane, Kimbrough asserts his own personality into his solo in the song's midst, brighter and harmonically altered for fulfillment of the singer's updated adaptation. Note how Bull leans forcefully into the notes, though, the respectful accompaniment highlighting her attack on words like "DAooooorbells" or her toying with the word "bad" as she at least eight ways to present it during the four-bar repeat. Bull switches back-up musicians for her version of another Rodgers and Hammerstein song, "Surrey With The Fringe On Top," and she daringly slows the surrey down to a virtual crawl for fully rounded attention to each note, each syllable. Eventually, it becomes clear (oddly, for a song humorously describing sunny optimism and pride in industrial progress) that Bull considers the song as blues material when she wraps it up with slippery intermediate tones between the conventional pitches we expect to hear.
But Bull's own compositions were the justification for producing Love Spook. They provide the most revealing glimpses into her sense of fun and her acuity of observation as she connects even the most mundane items with universal themes. "Leftover Blues" is indeed a modified blues that describes the leftovers in Bull's refrigerator, either real or imagined. Nonetheless, as enlivened by the light swing of Bull's trio, the song moves beyond the mundane into a statement about emotional abandonment and about getting up and starting all over again. Or on "Love Spook," Bull climbs ascending minor ninth intervals with fearless openness, restraining none of her involvement in the music at hand, not until the song's last notes wordlessly express leavened emotion.
Bull's singing often is compared to Sheila Jordan's or Jay Clayton's-and she herself is flattered by the comparisons and by those singers' praise. However, Bull is like them primarily due to the fact that she is unlike any other singer. With deep reserves of talent, a wide range, incessant surprises when she sings, a vibrant imagination, a natural feel for rhythm, lyrical perceptiveness, unconventional formation of notes and an ever-present sense of fun, Katie Bull immerses herself fully in the songs she sings. She represents a true discovery for anyone who hasn't heard her yet.
Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2006 JazzReview and Don Williamson.
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