Lisa Kirchner’s latest album of her jazz singing, Umbrellas In Mint, has her performing twelve pieces, all of which bring her own words to her own music. There is something comfortingly off-beat about the way she can conceive a tune and then spin it out with a gentle vocalization that creates a reassuring illusion of normality. I say “illusion” because her way with words shows a decided preference for the surreal, drawing upon metaphors that are just as off-beat as her jazz style, blended with free association and any number of appropriations from left of left field.
Like her previous album, Charleston for You, the twelve tracks on Umbrellas In Mint are again structured as a “geographical tour.” This time, however, the words are the main attraction. Instrumental solos from Sherman Irby (saxophone), Ron Jackson (guitar), and Bill Schimmel (accordion) are there for relatively brief commentary on Kirchner’s vocal delivery. The rhythm section, consisting of pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Vicente Archer, and drummer Willie Jones III provides support that seems rooted in continuo practices. If, as was the case in Charleston for You, the geographical references have an autobiographical foundation, in Umbrellas In Mint they are refracted by a subconscious that probably warps meaning the same way that Kirchner’s jazzy style warps conventional melody.
If the words tend to dominate the tunes, Umbrellas In Mint still makes for compelling listening for its capacity to bring the “art” in “art song” solidly into the jazz repertoire.