The answer to Lorraine Feather’s mysterious new album “Attachments” can be found in her first track, “A Little Like This.” A surprise around every corner — Is this a stoic classical piece? Wait, are those African beats? Oh, right into a sophisticated straight-ahead romp — “A Little Like This” by Feather and longtime collaborator, Russell Ferrante (Yellowjackets), introduces the theme (attachments to people, places and things), mood (mostly minor, wistful, wry chords, please), and captivating impact to listeners special enough to pick up this Grammy-nominated gem.
In the opening song’s lyrics, Feather’s own personal style leaks out as she’s trying to explain what she’s going for with her own short stories: “The larger question unaddressed…. Now and then I try to tell you, Always a little clumsily, at best. It’s a little mysterious, Can be a little complicated, It can be a little rapturous…. It’s a little hopeless, it’s a little unbelievable, And it’s a little inspiring.”
Her album, released on Jazzed Media August 13, 2013, is a little of all of these. Mostly, it’s hard to put down.
The album contains a lot of classically-kissed ballads (“Anna Lee,” “We Have The Stars,” “I Hope I Never Leave This Place,” “The Veil,” “True”), nearly stealing the show. It’s also got a few snappy, sharp jazz numbers (“159,” “I Love You Guys”) to break up the minor keys.
The daughter of a big band singer and a jazz writer, and named after godmother Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee, Feather never fails to astound the listener with her ghostly voice and attention to every musical detail. Her taste level is impeccable, as evidenced by the seasoned, trusted musicians she plays with whenever she can: co-collaborators Russell Ferrante (Yellowjackets), Shelly Berg, Dave Grusin, and Eddie Arkin, seasoned with guest artists Bob Mintzer (Yellowjackets), Charles Bisharat, Gregg Field, Michael Shapiro, Grant Geissman, and Michael Valerio.
Just when the listener settles into a lovely afternoon of ballad delights, Feather will switch up the vibe and go for the throat in a chilling twist, or stomping and stirring up the dust with a cool, lively beat that goes on for miles. Her voice carries the weight of a thousand eras, yet can immolate for an earth-bound mood shift, closer to here.
“A Little Like This” opens with an old country vibe in violinist Charles Bisharat’s sad, but stirring prelude before percussionist Michael Shapiro impossibly brings in an African beat, calling to mind Noah and the animals marching toward his ark. This is the one that got the whole thing started, with music written by Russell Ferrante and lyrics by Feather. There were two instrumental versions, but they went with the minor keys to fit the song’s melancholy nostalgia. “At this point I didn’t have a title for the project, but described the concept to Russ,” Feather explained. “He closed his eyes for a couple of seconds, opened them, and said, ‘Attachments.’”
“A Little Like This” best showcases the malleability of Feather’s uniquely elevated voice against the sophisticated play of Ferrante, who does his best — with the stout percussive-driven rhythm section — to carry out her lyrical drifts to the very last note. Musicians will close their eyes in the middle of this “lovely abstraction,” appreciative of the lift and flow of a band that can go to town on a ballad and make it palpable for the straight-ahead crowd. Everyone fits, from the violinist and guitarist, to the bassist and percussionist, falling in line under the charge of the melody held loosely but confidently by the pianist and the vocalist. Nothing is left to chance. When the piano crashes up against shifts of the drum beats, as Feather lends her softest notes in and around their bends, it’s more than “a little inspiring.”
“Attachments” by Feather and guitarist Eddie Arkin seems merely the vocalist’s way of explaining the various romances in her life, a “list song.” But the music and her compatible vocal handling raise the list song into something truly special. This is a singer and lyricist who uses every single aspect of a song in a fully equipped performance. She knows when to get out of the way as the musicians step forward to fill in the blanks of the words she does not say. She also is a singer who says more in between the rise and fall of her melodies than almost anyone else out there, and one who can get away with the speakeasy when the song requires an inflection found only in a spoken word.
This is another song following the same line of “A Little Like This,” in that the musicians take over to describe, without words, the feelings Feather tries to dance around. A little slower, a little more thoughtful, pianist Ferrante lays the groundwork with a romantic, hazy Brazilian vibe that creeps until it explodes. Credit Arkin for the intoxicating slow build. He “chose some lines that veered off the main subject to describe the person’s non-romantic emotional ties,” Feather described in her liner notes. “Eddie wrote an evocative, impressionistic accompaniment for this section. We then went back to a verse, continuing the ‘list’ theme. The song ends with two people having a drink together and one of them making a confession.” What Feather doesn’t say in the lyrics is more than implied in the music, as this confession clearly harbors a kind of unrequited torch, underscored as her voice flies away with, “And there you are.”
“We Have The Stars” features a beautiful dance of lyrics and music, as pianist Shelly Berg waits on vocalist Feather throughout the considered piece. It’s a grand study on the relationship between a singer and her accompanist. The best will move around the vocalist as she feels her way through the spaces of a song, before cushioning her with glorious, enhancing music. Berg’s delicate touch, boundless but adoring — like the best of the classical musicians of their time — waits for Feather, considers her shifting moods, and plays off her cues. Together, they create the right mixture of longing and experience, sharing energy until at times, they become an amalgam of each other, the voice fused into piano, and vice versa. Berg isn’t a part of Feather’s core band, but he plays with her as if they are one being; the faith and the listening exhibited through their combined forces, priceless.
Jazz musicians will adore “I Love You Guys” — a whimsical but true song about the trials of performing — for the balance of musically astute, recognizable lexicon (“The alleged mistakes that you insist require punching in… Scattin’ the blues over a non-blues tonality, accidentally changing key, then lookin’ around at you furiously… a seven-stroke roll”), and the music itself, which is slamming. That couldn’t have been easy to record or write for Shelly Berg and Feather. “…it was a great opportunity for [Shelly], drummer Gregg Field and Michael Valerio to show off their chops (check out Mike’s solo at 1:25),” Feather stated. “The lyrics contain references to conversations I’ve had with musicians, jokes about chick singers, etc.” She and Berg give the guys plenty of room to play with the music, and they “go to town” appropriately. This is the one every working jazz musician is gonna wanna do charts for, for their own gigs.
Every once in a while, an artist comes along who defies categorization, leaves a lasting impression, and requires another long look. Lorraine Feather’s “Attachments” goes to great lengths to tell stories that touch the senses through her vocals, lyrics, and her band’s music. In the first review, posted January 1, Jazz Music Examiner got caught up in her voice and her personal stories in the mostly sad, wistful ballads about the losses attached to her loves. In this take 2, it’s all about the music, and what wondrous music it is.
“Attachments” is up for a Grammy in the best jazz vocal album category.