Multifaceted American funsters stream playful seriousness via series of nuanced nu-jazz numbers.
Having played for more than three decades, this Milwaukeean duo may criminally fall under many a listener’s radar, but Kim Zick and Connie Grauer have made quite a splash amongst fellow musicians, with the ladies’ parts on records by the likes of k.d. lang a testament to the pair’s telepathic talent. The small ensemble’s seventh album, “Truth” – as its title should dictate – is their sincerest and, in the absence of guests, most intimate offering: laid down live, with vocal overdubs, the devil’s dozen tracks on display speaks volumes of Connie and Kim’s attitude with regards to composition and arrangement – delicate yet bold, and diverse yet tied into a single nu-jazz bundle. But here’s a term doing no justice to the players’ intoxicating mix of styles which, taken together, are full of charming unpredictability – a trait manifested from the start.
Reserve is not the awesome twosome’s thing, so “19” will set the album in motion with a carnivalesque groove caught between effervescent spikes of electric ivories and effusive breaks of wooden sticks. Still, the celebratory mood gets dissolved in pensive fusion before funk creeps in to let bass keys have a field day and change the prospect into something quite menacing, albeit undermined by a half-cooked “Für Elise” quote. With variety as a means to an end, the self-explanatory “Process Is The Purpose” exposes the artists’ method via a delicate rapping applied to a transparent backdrop that holds a hint of drama, as anger is consigned to fluctuating synthesizers which return later on in “Let Me Live My Lie” in intense, if unhurried and more and more nervous, form. There’s also orchestral ambition going fantastically astray towards spaced-out amusement in “House Party” and Bach-like organ fugue offsetting the playful atmosphere in the improv of “Tula’s Turnaround” and allowing percussion drums to engage in, respectively, almost-military belligerency and Latin dance.
Perhaps, Kim and Connie treat the lucid covers of “Light My Fire” and “Soulful Strut” – that sees a sunny jaunt taken off the straight path by adventurous, on-a-tangent, melodic twists – with too much respect. But when a Jobim cut is appended to the spoken-word-stricken reverie of “Silent Mist” or a Shorter tune attached to “Space Port” that’s frantically boogieing on bottom-end beyond event horizon, it’s very natural, tradition adding a classy layer to the duo’s originals. They go even further with “Zawinul” whose bold daubs of cymbals-caressed cosmic chords, and an Ellington quote thrown in, become increasingly nebulous and shift the piece’s eventual sparseness to “I Don’t Want To Know Your Name” – a relaxed but perky pop number. It contrasts the cinematic folk of “Orange Grove” which flows from strings’ filigree to poignant piano, yet shows the way to “Calm Before The Storm” – lighthearted yet spiritual finale, where the repetition of the titular phrase must amount to mantra.
“Truth” be told, this is a mature work, placing Zick and Grauer on the same level as their heroes… or at least taking them there rather soon.