This global pandemic has put so many artists’ careers on hold, forced performance venues – some of them historic – to shut down and, worst still, all but bankrupted so many artists and valuable industry professionals that global cultures themselves are under threat of being demolished. Fortunately the spirit of the artist has not been broken, nor is it likely to be, unless rained upon by brimstone and fire. We are all fortunate for the sturdiness and strength of the artist. It gives us hope; a quality that may be the singular, most important reason for the survival of our very species. Sadly, though “hope” and “love”, as we are reminded in the ineffable beauty of this music – on Love is the Key – by the prodigious composer, pianist and vocalist, Sue Maskaleris.
Miss Maskaleris has a penchant for writing music that is informed by the bitter-sweetness of life. Often her music is tinged rather deeply by sadness, but it is almost never sounds hopeless. You hear this not only on the anthem-like “Love is the Key”, but is also heard in the wistful beauty of “Valentine’s Day for One” and – most remarkably of all – on “March of the Refugee [Dire]”. Miss Maskaleris unplugs all emotional filters as she sings Luiz Simas’ exquisite lyrics on the latter, a song about the migration of refugees marching with hunger and hope towards a better life northwards. This is a song that captures the epic sadness of refugees everywhere else in the world. It would well have been the apogee of this recording had not the other theme of this recording – “love” – been somewhat more pre-dominant in other songs. Of course, who can resist the lustrous soprano of Miss Maskaleris as he digs into the meaning of each phrase – something that enables her to give even the most mundane part of a narrative a seduction all its own.
Love is the Key also unlocks Miss Maskaleris’ other extraordinary artistic virtues – such as her ability to write songs with dramatic twists and turns – melodically as well as in terms of narratives. She also displays her recognisable ability for artistic riposte. The wonderful harmonic and rhythmic jaggedness of “Procrastination” is the best example of this although you may find a number of examples hidden like gems in a treasure-hunt on other songs. [Once again “Valentine’s Day for One” comes u as an example of this aspect of her songwriting imprint]. And then there is Miss Maskaleris’ ability to conjure sweeping visual imagery in her songs, which makes it so easy for her to seduce you into following her wherever she wants you to go. The samba/baião with Portuguese lyrics by Sandy Cressman, “Você Pra Mim” is irresistible.
This recording does something else for Miss Maskaleris – it raises the bar on that other crucial aspect of music-making: production. While she has never spared any effort to make each song a special “project” in itself, it’s clear that Miss Maskaleris has done something special on this album. Each song here comprised of superb inventions in each sculpted phrase. Moreover she brings specialty to each song by inviting other artists to partake of her inventions. The choice of these special guests here is inspired – the celebrated vocalist Janis Siegel and [equally celebrated] vocalist and woodwinds master Darmon Meader, for instance; or to employ the ingenuity of violinist Sara Caswell on two songs, the great Steve Williams and Mauricio Zottarelli, both incomparable drummers and the sublimely gifted Luiz Simas… and that is only a partial list of celebrated artists who enrich the music enormously raising the quality of the album to a rarefied realm.
Track list – 1: Procrastination; 2: Bliss; 3: Love Will Overflow; 4: March of the Refugee [Dire]; 5: Love is the Key; 6: Renewal; 7: Você Pra Mim; 8: Valentine’s Day for One; 9: Summer; 10: Fly Away; 11: Love is the Key [Radio Edit]
Personnel – Sue Maskaleris: vocals, piano, keyboards, synth strings; Wesley Amorim: guitars, 7-string guitars [1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 9]; Leo Traversa: bass, 5-string fretless bass [1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11]; Samuel Martinelli: drums [1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11]; With special guests – Janis Siegel: vocals [1, 8]; Darmon Meader: background vocals [3, 8]and soprano saxophone ; the Dire Choir – Mindye Fortgang [also vocals on 3], Devorah Segall, Nancy Ruth, Annie Lebeaux, Eve Zanni, Nelson Riveros, Luiz Simas: [also background vocals on 9], John Di Martino: vocals [4, 5, 11]; Ceclia Tenconi: flute , alto flutes [2, 7, 9] and alto saxophone ; James “Doc” Halliday: soprano saxophone [3, 10]; Larry Tutt: alto saxophone [7, 8], EWI and flugelhorn  and voice ; Rodrigo Botter Maio: soprano saxophone  and flugelhorn ; Brad Baker: clarinet ; Sara Caswell: violin [5, 11]; Nelson Riveros: guitar ; Jared Bernstein: contrabasse ; Bruce Atkinson: contrabasse and background vocals ; Steve Williams: drums [3, 10]; Mauricio Zottarelli: drums ; Negah Santos: percussion [1, 7, 9]; Chembo Corniel: congas and tambourine [5, 11]; Roger Guarino: voice 
Released – 2021
Label – Jazilian Records
Runtime – 51:33