great chain of being -- that offers but phantom glimpses of its
inner workings -- the individual, one link among billions, is
fated to be as invisible as he is replaceable. However, he does
not accept his fate with equanimity, and over the course of a
lifetime he may decide to isolate and invest in a particular sequence
of that chain such that the meaning of his life will be inseparable
from his relationship with it. In music, that can mean identifying
with a specific genre or tradition of music, believing its value
is directly related to its ability to endure through time.
Susie Arioli (the voice) and Jordan Officer (the guitar) have
dedicated their careers to breathing new life into the American
Songbook, a music that constitutes one of the great links in the
chain of music.
the Songbook’s evergreens (the Canadian mot juste
for The Standards supplied by Montreal jazz critic Juan Rodriguez)
are the compositions of the Gershwin Brothers, George and Ira,
who, in 1928, penned “Embraceable You,” which became
the title of an album recorded in 1957 (released in 1995) by the
young Chet Baker. Two songs on that classic album -- “Forgetful”
and “There’s a Lull in My Life” -- are marvelously
taken up by Arioli & Officer in their latest CD, All
The Way (2012). The album also includes two
other famous songs associated with Chet the Younger: “My
Funny Valentine” and “Time After Time.”
distinguishes the accomplished artist from the bloated category
of wannabes is his ability to vibrate the chain in such a way
that a minute section of it comes to the attention of the public.
It is then incumbent upon the latter to decide whether or not
the music is fit to last. So beginning with the Gershwins through
Chet Baker, we reconnect with songs written and sung by brilliant
(deceased) composers/musicians who are very much alive in the
present in the voice and guitar and exquisitely wrought arrangements
of Arioli & Officer.
of the on-going 2012
Montreal International Jazz Festival, their year end concert
was easily one of the most satisfying jazz gigs of the year. It
was wisely held in the more spacious Place des Arts to accommodate
their growing fan base.
more than voice and guitar, what discerning audiences are drawn
to in Arioli & Officer is their inimitable sound: ivory smooth
enough that you want to hold it in your hand, as fragile as crystal
you’re afraid to drop and butterfly breezy and feather light
– all of it impeccably fashioned to capture the spirit of
The Standards, many of which they now own.
is the unstated goal of every musician to take formless acoustic
space and organize it so that the music bears the name of the
individual or group, there is no mistaking the Arioli-Officer
sound, which has always been more than the sum of the parts they
play. Listeners gravitate to their immaculate timbre and return
to their recordings like tone addicts are drawn to the Sinatra
voice or ecstasy addicts to the music of Richard Wagner. If you
can’t get enough of Arioli & Officer it’s because
you want to hear blades of grass grow or the scent of a favourite
flower filling a room. Their sculpting of sound is perhaps their
greatest achievement to date and bodes well for a much deserved
the brush-soft percussion of Anthony Albine to the finger-sweet,
superbly weighted bass notes of Rich Gossage, the melodies, taking
flight on the hush-velvet voice of Arioli, instantly transform
a venue into a favourite place listeners never want to leave.
Their rewrites of “Forgetful” and “Husbands
and Wives” easily take their place right along the originals.
In their interpretations and arrangements, nothing is left to
chance. The inspired pairing of voice and saxophone (Cameron Wallis)
in the bridge of the achingly beautiful “There’s a
Lull in My Life,” makes the case that the 4th dimension
is a property of music.
Officer continues to evolve as a guitarist and he is already one
of the genre’s most distinct if not among the very best.
His playing is instantly recognizable in its unorthodox entries
and exits, sudden stops and hesitations, madly inspired flourishes
and memorable melody lines. He plays every solo as if the composer
had asked him to write a guitar part that will be indelibly linked
to the song.
the greatest surprise of the evening was the discovery of the
warmth and richness of Susie Arioli’s voice in the lower
register, creamy and smooth like an avocado the palate can’t
resist. That it has rather suddenly come to the fore in mid-career
opens up all sorts of possibilities, including the expectation
that she will spend a lot more time there, which will mean looking
at the repertoire from a different angle.
of soundscapes that hearken back to a more civilized and polite
era, Arioli & Officer, despite the hegemony of rap and hip-hip,
have defied the odds by carving out in the present a cozy alcove
where melody and polyphony can take a stand, which is good news
for listeners looking to side-step music that is all anger and
Arioli and Jordan Officer are at the very top of their game and
word is finally getting out.