Recording Date: Apr 8, 1996 - Apr 22, 1996
Eden Atwood is occasionally reminiscent of Lee Wiley in her ability to bring jazz feeling to lyrics without actually improvising all that much. Atwood really understands the words that she interprets, and even when interpreting well-known tunes (as on this CD, when she sings "When the Sun Comes Out," "The Folks Who Live on the Hill," and "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most"), she makes the music sound quite fresh and timely. Assisted by pianist Jeremy Kahn, bassist Larry Kohut, drummer Joel Spencer, and (on four songs) the fiery tenor of Chris Potter, the young singer shows a great deal of maturity on this session; she takes a song apiece as a duet with each of her rhythm section mates, and even "Moon River" (which has her joined only by bassist Kohut) is a success.
All Music Guide
In a world crowded with music, it's a treat to hear a fresh, captivating jazz singer who is gifted yet unassuming, self-assured but still searching - and determined to give her audience nothing but the best. Which brings me to Eden Atwood.
This recording, Ms. Atwood's fourth for Concord, presents the 27-year-old Montana native at her romantic and lyrical best, with a challenging program rich with ballads, sparkling with some burners and packed with imaginative arrangements. It contains, in her words, music that's "transcendent," a word Webster defines as "rising above the limits and becoming victorious over the negative."
"By transcendent, I mean music that speaks about universal truths," she said. "I don't want music to focus on angst, pain or societal breakdown, like so much of the pop stuff does. I see enough of that on my own. I don't need music to do that for me."
Transcendent can also describe how Eden energizes her performances: "What used to inspire me was the bad stuff in my life; I felt it kept me alive and engaged. But I decided not too long ago that I don't want to be unhappy forever. I'm looking for a way to be happy and inspired."
Which is what this recording is all about. The tunes are rich, warm, and they celebrate the human condition, while the band gives Eden what she calls a "communal vibe," an emotional melding of the minds. And that's to be expected, since pianist Jeremy Kahn, bassist Larry Kohut and drummer Joel Spencer gig with her regularly.
"We argue about what tunes should be recorded all the time," said Eden. "They like to hit things a little harder than I do. I don't want to double-time the ballads, but sometimes they do. Yeah, I like to swing out and have a blast, but my specialty, my 'higher calling,' if you will, is the ballad. And not strictly a ballad. It can be an arrangement that's slow and open enough to give me the time and space I need to make a connection with my audience. I don't like things to be rushed."
Eden opens with "When the Sun Comes Out," a tune she might have sung in a much mellower, wistful kind of way if left to her own devices. "But [pianist] Jeremy tells me I can still swing a ballad. He pushes me in that direction, and I push him toward a more spare approach. We wind up doing very good things to each other." The group stretches every bit as much as Eden on this rousing arrangement, with Chris Potter, who is becoming a regular guest on Eden Atwood recordings, digging in viscerally on the tenor. Eden calls him "a total musical being."
Next, Eden nails a beautiful version of "I've Grown Accustomed to His Face," displaying her respect for fine lyrics and her - and the group's - evocative chops. "This song is so rich," she said, "that you can't stop thinking about it. It's about love in its deepest form."
"Willow Weep for Me" is a breathless arrangement of a tune the group wanted to record, but in a different way. "It's one of those tunes that everybody does, and I dig it," said Eden. "We did it in three, and it just sort of blossomed into something special." Special, too, is Potter's solo work, which truly embellishes this classic, along with Joel Spencer's crisp drumwork. ("Joel is never in a funk," added Eden. "If he sees me getting dark on stage, he'll wink at me to get me back up. He's one of my great teachers in life and music.")
Eden dedicated "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" to a couple in Montana who recently observed their 50th wedding anniversary. "I sang it for them at their celebration because, for me, it really personifies what enduring love is. It's my fantasy tune; it's what I want for myself." Arranged as a duet, Jeremy Kahn's piano blends seamlessly with Eden for an emotional high.
"If I Love Again" was penned back in 1932, and it's a number that Charlie Parker liked to play. So the group gave it a Bird tempo, and the result is perfect: an upbeat jazzer that just feels good from start to finish.
"I Could Have Told You" was the rare Jimmy Van Heusen tune that Eden didn't know by heart, but once she heard it, she searched mightily for the music. "The guys didn't want to do the tune because of the languorous tempo, but it's turning out to be the sleeper of the album." It's followed by a pianoless arrangement of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" that highlights Eden's range and the driving forces of Chris, Larry and Joel.
"Lost in the Stars" is a tribute to the power of words and to her mom, a former English major now living in Montana, who instilled in Eden a respect for the language. "She taught me not to get swept away by pop culture and instant gratification. Her love of words and subtlety inspire me." And "So Many Stars" is for her late father, songwriter Hub Atwood, who loved the tune and played it often. "That melody is in my bones," she said.
Joel Spencer fought for the inclusion of McCoy Tyner's "You Taught My Heart to Sing," but Eden felt a bit funny about doing it because it was "more modernish than the others." Joel prevailed ("he got me close to tears"), and the result is some very stylish backing while Eden soars with the masterful words and music. ("It turned out nice. I like it," was her verdict.)
Shirley Horn is at the top of Eden's list of current heroes, and her recording of "Why Did I Choose You?" is one that knocked Eden out. This version takes no back seat, as Eden sings it with a feeling that maybe she had someone special in mind.
The closer, "Moon River," has been recorded perhaps a million times, but it's one for which Eden gets regular requests. "Larry Kohut is our glue," she said, speaking of the bassist. "On this version, I wanted to give a nod to Audrey Hepburn sitting on her windowsill in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." I thought it would be fun if Larry did two-string chordal things on the bass while we worked as a duet. And it all fell into place.
Having a solid, emotional connection with her audience is paramount for her. "I always play in rooms that are small enough for me to have eye contact with every single patron," she said. I like the warm, intimate feeling that some one like a Shirley Horn gets without exhibiting too much effort. I love that approach."
And, after a listen here, it's an approach that Eden achieves with wonderful success, whether on a ballad or a burner. Despite the hurdles of a CD player and loudspeakers, the result is marvelously the same: Eden Atwood is singing just for you.
- David Zych
(c) 1996 Concord Jazz, Inc.