a precious desert water hole around which dry mouths congregate,
a crowd quickly gathered to immerse itself in the inspired sounds
coming from the CBC stage where Becky Noble and her sextet were
playing their very first 2013 Montreal
International Jazz Festival.
BC Jazz might not yet be current, but with the likes of the Jensen
sisters (Christine and Ingrid), who performed earlier in the festival,
and Madame Krall, and now Becky Noble, the music makes the case
that it’s a term whose time has come.
of the prestigious 2012 Jazz En Rafale’s Best New Talent
contest, which included a prized recording contract, Becky Noble
and bandmates proved that they are the real deal and a deal that
will enhance the Effendi label’s prestige
Jazz Festival was the perfect occasion to debut their just released
album entitled Salish Folk Song that features
nine tracks of finely crafted original material and the Beatle’s
“Norwegian Wood.” Salish, by the way, refers to the
language of the First Nations people who originally occupied an
area near Vancouver.
is one of the presets of the genre that jazz musicians are typically
caught between playing for the moment and writing for eternity,
Becky Noble has productively taken up the cause of the latter.
From one movement to the next, there is a strong emphasis on composition
(melody), with the vertical thrust supplied by harmonies that
are sometimes orchestral in their effects, all of which is enhanced
by the very tactful handling of unusual time signatures.
often in jazz, affected time signatures are employed to mask weak
composition, a temptation Noble avoids throughout the entire CD
with the exception of “The Banana Fish Variations,”
which is nonetheless an adventure that can withstand repeated
listening thanks to the superb guitar work of Nick di Giovanni,
whose spacey indigo-electric sound seems to come from far away,
as if he were positioned in the back of the recording studio.
Happily, this is not the case when you hear him live, where his
clean and keenly crafted sound is right up front; no surprise
that his solos invariably generate considerable audience appreciation.
is another temptation deftly side-stepped by each and every member
of this sparkling sextet. In particular, the pianist Marie-Fatima
Rudolph, whose solo in “Nature Girl” is less of a
solo and more of an impressionistic tableau which adds an entirely
new dimension to one of the CD’s strongest tracks. Her vocalese,
perhaps sourced from Pat Metheny’s 1987 Still Life,
is a veritable celebration of life in all its joy shaped by and
through the intricacies of "la voix humaine."
noted with an asterisk is the understated but conceptually considerate
accompaniment of percussionist Mark Nelson who doesn’t miss
a beat when it comes to providing flexible structure and variety
of textures to the many musical ideas that radiate throughout
and with quiet authority, the confident and imaginative sax playing
and arrangements of Becky Noble, a survivor and tragic witness
to human folly, whose plaintive solo on “Sun Salutation”
is nothing less than her confession to the world. Notes that begin
in the breath, pass through metal and emerge as flesh and sound
before falling mute, coming up for air before going under again,
transmuted into phrasing that buckles and stutters and reminds
us that unhappiness makes happiness possible. However, what could
have been the jewel in this crown of music is undermined by a
false ending, an engineered studio fade that abandons the listener
in the uncertainty of a dangling dénouement to the effect
that Noble not only betrays the first principles of composition
but her already well established high standards.
false note is small compared to what is large and promising in
Becky Noble, whose debut CD is in equal parts agreeably challenging
next? Since first albums are invariably spontaneous and authentic
distillations of early life written as music, second albums are
often a letdown, lacking in urgency and the raw materials of life
that informed the first. What is too often learned the hard way
(or the wrong way) is that creation does not abide by deadlines
or recording contracts, nor can it be forced or fed into the formula
of past success. Will Becky Noble’s second album take its
cue from a composition like the heartfelt “Sun Salutation”
or the more intellectual “The Bananafish Variations?”
I will wait for as long as it takes for the right answer.
Robert J. Lewis