Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Fred Farell's Distant Song

A few months ago I reviewed a trio of male jazz singers, and I knocked these gentlemen for having voices that were a little too light, a little too classically pure for jazz. These three, and a few others I can think of, are fantastic singers and deserve to have flourishing careers, but each one needed, for different reasons, to find material that better matched their voices. They hadn't been roughed up enough by life to really sing the jazz they'd recorded.

Fred Farell doesn't have that problem. Now in his fifth decade singing jazz, Farell knows the right balance of weariness and wisdom required for an effective jazz ballad. On Distant Song, his first release for the new Whaling City Sound label, he's teamed up with with horn player Dave Liebman and pianist Richie Beirach to deliver ten original songs that are imbued with the sadness and longing that comes from singing a lifetime's worth of jazz. The idea here is fairly simple--Liebman and Beirach compose the music, Farell supplies the lyrics. In other words, this is a very personal project for this trio. You can hear it in every word that's spoken, and every note that's played.

There is an interesting fourth member of the team here--the studio. I'm not sure if this is the Whaling City Sound's signature or not, since this appears to be their third release (catalog number wcs 103), but it is distinctive. Farell's voice does indeed sound distant and cavernous, as if his performance was captured a long time ago. It's soaked with echo and reverb, which magnifies that slight wavering in his voice and underlines the aforementioned weariness. I'm sure it's an intended effect, and it's a valid choice, but it does take a little bit of time to adjust to it--especially when the keyboards and horns are so clear and present and forward. When it comes to intimate trios like this, I prefer the sound to bounce easily between the performers and even reflect what the others are doing...even when they're not doing anything. That sensation is minimalized here.

But that's not a flaw. It's just a different perspective, a conscious choice to make an elegy sound like an elegy. Distant Song isn't a happy or energetic album. It's a solemn one, full of longing and regret. All three of these gentlemen seem to know these emotions inside and out, and there's absolutely no pretense to be found. There are plenty of times where you need an album just like this one.

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