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Sophie Dunér Quartet - The Rain in Spain

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Artist: Sophie Dunér Quartet

Album: The Rain in Spain

Label: CIMP

Review date: Jul. 30, 2006

Few recording spaces are as acoustically unforgiving as CIMP’s Spirit Room. It’s a sink or swim environment where instruments receive nothing in the way of life preservers or rescue aid. Vocalists have it especially hard, out of reach of typical studio tricks and remedies like compression and pitch correction. For these reasons, it’s a special breed of singer that braves the rigors of the surroundings. Sophie Dunér is the latest chanteuse to pick up the silk gauntlet and like her predecessors, among them formidable songstresses Devorah Day and Rosella Washington, she comes up with a something personal and persuasive to say.

Stylistically, Dunér is a bit difficult to parcel. I hear some of Joan Armatrading in her warm, folksy way of phrasing a lyric and lacing it with falsetto trills. There’s a little Anita O’Day in there too, with a sassy insouciance sharpening some of her turns of verse. Guitarist Rory Stuart, who last fielded a CIMP session in the company of another vocalist, T.J. Graham, fronts Dunér’s backing band. His versatile fretwork veers from crackling bop-tinted single notes to lush enveloping chords, and braids piquantly with the plump double bass playing of Matt Penman. Kahil Kwame Bell provides the unobtrusive rhythmic glue on a pantry’s worth of percussion instruments and completes the welcoming, dark-roasted coffee house vibe of the date.

The songs are a canny mix of covers and originals. Dunér’s songsmithing is suitably idiosyncratic with imagery that leaves much to the imagination. On the standards, she’s just as devoted to shaping a mood. “Jack the Ripper” finds her dealing in octave leaps that evoke Yma Sumac. Other cuts like “Caravan” and “Lush Life” accentuate the commodious activities of the band, particularly the simpatico interplay between guitar and bass. On the former, Bell’s percolating bongos provide the perfect propulsive touch in conjunction with Dunér’s mellifluous vocalese and some stinging octave runs from Stuart. The guitarist unplugs on a laidback rendering of “Mack the Knife,” strumming acoustic and interjecting comedic retorts as Dunér rolls out the familiar lyrics. The follow-up, “Lonely Woman” (copped from the Horace Silver songbook not Coleman), reminds me of the mellower side of Patty Waters mixed with Nina Simone. The band pulls back into minimalist mode with shakers, a sparse bass throb and Stuart’s gilded chords combining in apposite accompaniment. This date hardly subscribes to the CIMP stereotype of tradition-anchored free jazz and is all the stronger and more charismatic for it.

By Derek Taylor

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