Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Christine Hitt's Magical Kite

With all these female vocal recordings I have on hand, it's interesting to pick out each one and find out what makes it different. Really, I'm trying to figure what makes each singer distinct--some sound like Julie, some sound like Ella, some sound like themselves, which is always a good thing. In rare cases, it's the music that's unique. If it is, that's an interesting reflection on the singer since it's ultimately about her tastes, and what she feels comfortable singing. Christine Hitt's new album, Magical Kite, is very different than most of the jazz albums I've been listening to lately because it drifts away from the traditions of jazz so frequently. In many ways she's a pure pop singer, taking on whatever songs have meaning for her. This isn't about taking familiar songs such as "Don't You Worry About a Thing," "Shower the People" or "Shine On Harvest Moon" and turning them into jazz standards. It's about finding something true to each composition and showing respect.

Hitt, who lives in the frozen tundra of Northern Wisconsin, is a pop singer with a sensitivity to jazz traditions, perhaps in the same vein of audiophile favorites such as Anne Bisson. That means she has eclectic tastes--everything from bebop to gospel to standards. She came to Los Angeles to record Magical Kite at Capitol Studios and recorded with some the best jazz musicians out west including pianist John Beasley, drummers Gene Coye and Jeff Hamilton and alto sax player Bob Sheppard. That means she can hit the straight jazz on songs like "Wade in the Water" and "Yardbird Suite" with authenticity and passion. Then she'll throw in a gentle ballad such as "Believe in Me," replete with strings and a gentle lead from Leo Amuedo's acoustic guitar. The track listing is so balanced, with each song radically different from then last one, that it almost reminds me of listening to Queen albums back in my teens.

Hitt is not purely defined by this variety, however--her voice is unusually warm and comforting, sweet and affectionate and powerful when it needs to be. She's the glue that holds these genres together, possessing a tonal consistency that keeps you focused on her talent instead of the way she darts around these swings in style. In the long run these shifts aren't as startling as they sound, especially if you imagine Hitt as the opposite of a pop singer who wants to take a crack at a jazz song, which is far more common. Call her a jazz singer who is also a music lover, one who wants to sing it all if given the chance.

Magical Kite is produced and arranged by pianist and composer Geoffrey Keezer, who gives this album a rich, professional feeling with the impression that the budget was large and that all the best people were involved. It's his skill as arranger that makes this album so fluid despite the constantly changing scenery. He's almost an unsung yet equal partner with Hitt, which is perhaps why they share the spotlight on the final track, "Around the World." It's just Hitt's voice backed by Keezer's piano, and he takes one hell of a victory lap with a stunning performance. It's a lovely, quiet way to end this charming album.

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