Torontonians like to fantasise that Toronto is the centre of the universe when it comes to sports and culture – including music – even if it is certainly not. Québec has a far greater musical culture than Ontario (and things could get considerably worse under the present, decidedly Philistine-sounding Conservative government of Doug Ford). Meanwhile the other provinces – especially British Columbia – receives almost scant attention from all, but musicians. If you need any proof of that the scene in British Columbia is thriving one need only take a look at the Cellar Live catalogue. The enterprise born of an outsize Jazz-fan Cory Weeds is one of the largest in the country and boasts the most consistently high-quality roster of musicians in the country. Joani Taylor is just one of them.
This recording that stays in the perceptibly safe realm of Jazz standards is anything but a safe recording. If anything it’s highly adventurous in the most important aspect of art: Miss Taylor leaps off the proverbial cliff of art without a care as what kind of splash she’ll make. As it turns out it’s a BIG splash indeed because these songs are sung with bare-knuckle honesty. They are far from stripped down versions of classic music. On the contrary they are emotionally nude, as if the singer has sung not with the voice and all of the organs related to making the vocals cords work, but with just the nervous system in all of its nakedness. This is how you get those long, dallying notes at the ends of the lines of “In a Sentimental Mood” that sound as if they have been loaded with so much elemental pain that they are “cried” and not simply “sung”. And so on and on it goes from song to song. Each is as truly heartfelt that one could ever get to wearing raw emotions on one’s sleeve.
But there is also an uncommon eloquence and refinement that unravels with every song that often leaves the listener gasping for breath. Try “Alfie”, or “Sentimental Journey” and of course “Lover Man” a song defined by Billie Holliday because when she sang it you saw (her) life flash by with all of its vivid highs and lows. And there is exactly this quality in the vocal magic of Miss Taylor’s versions of these songs. Each song seems to speak to her in a manner so personal that one emerges from them feeling as if they were written just for her. Another aspect of this recording that makes it so special is the playing of PJ Perry who sounds as magical on the saxophones that he plays as Miss Taylor does. Bassist Neil Swainson does just the same with his outstanding timekeeping and melodic invention. And Miles Black’s pianism is so special that he brings the same quality as the great pianists of Lieder pianists, as much of a co-creator in all of this superb repertoire as anyone – including Miss Taylor.
Track list – 1: This Can’t Be Love; 2: In a Sentimental Mood; 3: Embraceable You; 4: Alfie; 5: Undecided; 6: Sentimental Journey; 7: Lover Man; 8: Love Walked In; 9: A Ghost Of A Chance/I Can’t Get Started; 10: More Than You Know; 11: Be My Love; 12: I Just Had To Hear Her Voice
Personnel – Joani Taylor: voice; PJ Perry: alto and tenor saxophone; Miles Black: piano; Neil Swainson: contrabass
Released – 2018
Label – Cellar Live (CL 11157)
Runtime – 1:04:24