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Azita - Life on the Fly

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Artist: Azita

Album: Life on the Fly

Label: Drag City

Review date: Apr. 20, 2004

When rumors began to surface linking Azita Youssefi, formerly of Windy City avant rock units Scissor Girls and Bride of No No, to a solo album built around piano and sounding like Steely Dan, it was hard not to be a bit incredulous. But, with the release of Enantiodromia, Azita made believers of at least some of the disbelievers. Her idiosyncratic vocal styling may not have flowed like velvet over her piano, but her technique was always interesting and strong. Backed by a band featuring fellow Chicagoans John McEntire, Matthew Lux, Jeff Parker, and Rob Mazurek, Azita backed rough, awkward compositions with smooth jazz/rock arrangements. The result was an album that resonated with an inconspicuous beauty and force.

Life on the Fly, Azita’s follow-up to Enantiodromia, features an approach that's similar to that of its predecessor. The core trio of Azita, McEntire, and Lux returns, as well as Parker and/or Mazurek on the majority of tracks. Azita’s voice and piano are still the foci of the music, with the accompaniment mixed below. The songwriting of Life on the Fly follows a path not unlike that of Azita’s earlier piano works, although Azita sometimes enters a straightforwardly rollicking territory not explored in her former work. At times, the songs’ arrangements feel overly busy, but on "Wasn't In The Bargain," this business is welcome. McEntire plays the straight man, staying rhythmically consistent no matter what twists or turns Azita’s voice and piano take, and Lux’s bass playing is suitable almost to the point of being invisible.

Mazurek and Parker, however, are more hit-and-miss. Parker, by tone alone, contributes more than his share of a schmaltziness that the rest of the band only hint at. To be fair, though, some of the guitarist’s solos are striking, obtuse and logical in just the right proportions for Azita’s music. Mazurek’s more restrained cornet work leaves little room for complaint, but on “Just Joker Blues,” his blustery punctuation crowds the music from both sides. While it often lacks the stark, more obviously personal feeling that was a strength of Enantiodromia, Azita’s new work isn’t lyrically vapid. Her more metaphorical musings don’t always resonate the way that one might hope, but Azita continually finds interesting ways to make her point.

Life on the Fly could be viewed as a sophomore album, as it’s the second in this new phase of Azita’s career. And while it might not be the pleasant surprise that Enantiodromia was, or even as strong an album, Azita has proven that she’s got legitimate skills as a singer/songwriter, even when all the noise and clatter dies down. The shift from the no wave of Scissor Girls to her present material might be tough for some listeners to swallow, but, over the span of two albums in as many years, there’s no doubt that Azita has staked a claim just as distinctive in a completely different musical realm, and that she remains a voice that’s hard to ignore.

By Adam Strohm

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