Pianist and composer Jeremy Siskind and vocalist Nancy Harms – together with reeds and woodwinds specialist Lucas Pino – cannot be praised too highly; the pianist for the utter ingenuity of his compositions and elegant pianism, Miss Harms for the silken elegance of her voice which always beckons through clear and meaningful enunciation and Mr Pino for the utter perfection of his control and placement of perfectly accented and slanted harmonies. I cannot listen to this music – especially with Miss Harms’ poignant vocalastics – without the proverbial lump in the throat. The radiance and unerring accuracy with which she follows the melodic line – and the almost playful impudence genius with which she sometimes leads it astray into the exact territory where her cheeky little improvisation should take it is most affecting. She seems the perfect musical partner for Mr Siskind. Meanwhile, Mr Pino makes a case for himself too, with his marvelous interjections.
No discerning listener, no one who demands the very best in that art should pass over this recording for Songs of Rebirth is a masterly work with a freshness that is utterly alluring. Mr Siskind’s compositions – both music and lyrics – are stunning. His understanding of the musicality of words and phrases and how to match them with melodic lines with the right balance of rhythmic precision and looseness so as to make them sing and captivate is prodigious. Miss Harms, for her part has the genius to free what is written on the page and send it fluttering into the air. Together they two artists make for a pairing that is ethereal and almost otherworldly. Although this heavenly partnership runs throughout this repertoire on both discs, it is particularly poignant on the following songs on disc one.
“Unbroken String”: This performance is so captivating that I found myself holding my breath – indeed, often gasping for breath – especially when Miss Harms indulged in almost inhuman vocalastics; impossibly perfect passaggio, moving between tone and pitch with such athleticism that she nailed every melodic leap, every accidental with a precision that felt almost superhuman. The more she was challenged by Mr Siskind – and Mr Pino – the more precisely and elegantly she responded. This seemingly superhuman feat – on the part of all the musicians – was repeated on “Drinking Song” with the added touch of puckish humour; and then again on “Kneel” and reached sublime heights on “New”[ before the profound and meditative song “We Will Not Go Back to Normal” brings the disc to a close.
There have been a plethora of new recordings conceived as a response to the global pandemic which turned humanity upside down. But Mr Siskind’s recording is not just one of many. Like everything music he is known to do, he has invested much time – emotional time – into this one. One has only to listen to the series of [five] songs relating the pandemic – “I’d Break Quarantine” – to experience his ability to create art committed to uncommon excellence. But his is a living art and the genius of Miss Harms and Mr Pino helps make it so in no uncertain terms. Finding five completely different ways of creating the aforementioned song is something to be admired. Just the fact that the pianist – and his musicians – can find not only five different ways to swing a tune [and pronounce its feelings and emotions] is a thing of beauty and genius – something to be admired.
This trio’s juxtaposition of sensuousness [Miss Harm’s dulcet tones] and decorum [Mr Siskind’s playing] and the tasteful continuo [provided by Mr Pino’s elegant bass clarinet] subtly supports the vocalist’s moulding of the almost solemnly beautiful narrative of Mr Siskind’s songs is beyond compare. Mr Pino’s interjections are fantastically articulate – with gentle use of inégales on the part of Mr Siskind – and gorgeously shaped ornamental cadences on the art of both musicians are elevated by the sincere delivery [on the part of Miss Harms] elevate the texts to the rarefied realm. This is intimate, gorgeous and exquisitely crafted music performed as few musicians can. It is, indeed a performance for the ages, and, happily, one that has also been superbly captured won record by some truly artful engineering on the part of Tom Zink and mastered by Benjamin Maas.
Track list – Disc One: True Believers –1: I’d Given Up; 2: Unbroken String; 3: In Every Moment: 4: I’d Break Quarantine vol. 1; 5: Lethe-Reincarnation; 6: Drinking Song; 7: Serontiny; 8: I’d Break Quarantine vol. 2; 9: Kneel; 10: So I Went to New York City; 11: New; 12: We Will Not Go Back to Normal. Disc Two: Cynics and Skeptics – 1: Growing Pains; 2: I’d Break Quarantine vol. 3; 3: Long Beach, In Fog; 4: New Year, New You; 5: I’d Break Quarantine vol. 4; 6: April, the Liar; 7: Demeter; 8: I’d Break Quarantine vol. 5; 9: Forgiveness; 10: Another Birthday.
Personnel – Jeremy Siskind: piano; Nancy Harms: voice; Lucas Pino: tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet
Released – 2022
Label – Outside in Music [OIM 2214]
Runtime – Disc One 53:43 Disc Two 42:08