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Review: Lisa Kirchner’s Something to Sing About

July 26, 2011

Dropping music into different stylistic environments may be done often, but that doesn’t mean it’s often done well. In fact, the frequent use of re-contextualization makes many efforts seem clichéd. Lisa Kirchner’s Something to Sing About avoids this fate by doing the unlikely: taking vocal material by many 20th Century composers and placing them in the realm of jazz.

Kirchner, the daughter of Leon Kirchner, selected material by many musicians who had a connection to her father, and this personal relationship is evident in the tracks. Her musicianship is spot on throughout as she navigates some very tricky melodic lines and sells them convincingly as natural jazz tunes. She also employed a solid cast of backing musicians to play, and they’re asked to not just read the notes on the page but sometimes flesh out the works with improvised lines over the composed pieces. Their work on the album is tasteful in adding character to these songs without pushing them too far from their original identity. As a rule, the arrangements are clear and deliberate, with each vocal and instrumental gesture captured with a clear focus.

On the album are offerings from composers such as Aaron Copland, David del Tredici, Charles Ives, and both Lisa and Leon Kirchner. It’s interesting to hear these musicians presented as ‘jazz’ composers because it really brings into focus that jazz being a central part of the DNA of American music. The album’s brightest tracks (Acrostic Song from del Tredici’s Final Alice and Leon Kirchner’s Lily)  have a feel of being filtered versions of the songs that have washed away the chaff and gotten to the cleaned core of the music. This is the best that cross-over projects can offer: finding a new vehicle for an old idea that seems almost more natural than the original.

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