Artist: Liane Carroll
Album: Up and Down
Genre: Vocal Jazz, Soul
Quality: mp3, 320 kbps
1. Buy and Sell
2. What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life
4. Take Me Home
5. What Now My Love
6. Turn Out the Stars
7. Some Children See Him
9. My Funny Valentine
10. Old Devil Moon / Killer Joe
11. Make Someone Happy
12. I Can Let Go Now
Vocalist and pianist Liane Carroll has developed into one of Britain’s greatest jazz singers, a fine interpreter of jazz standards and popular songs with a powerful and down to earth stage presence. Carroll is celebrated for her solo shows but has also worked in duos with Scottish pianist Brian Kellock and with fellow pianist/vocalist Ian Shaw (guest contributor Roger Thomas reviews a Carroll/Shaw live performance from King’s Place, London elsewhere on this site). She also runs a regular trio featuring her husband Roger Carey on bass and Mark Fletcher at the drums. It is the trio that is at the heart of this latest record but the album also features appearances by such luminaries as Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Kirk Whalum (tenor sax) and Julian Siegel (reeds).
“Up and Down” represents something of a departure in Carroll’s discography. Her previous releases have been largely live recordings or “live in the studio” affairs with the tracks being laid down very quickly, often first takes. The new album is different, recorded over the course of several months in a variety of locations including the USA. Produced by the Grammy nominated producer and trumpeter James McMillan the album also features the string and big band arrangements of another Grammy nominee, the Los Angeles based arranger Chris Walden. These additional elements ensure “Up and Down” one of Carroll’s most diverse albums to date and the favourable critical response thus far suggests that it’s one that will considerably broaden her audience.
Born in London of Irish descent but brought up and still resident in Hastings Carroll has paid her dues and now appears to be collecting her rewards. Besides her obvious technical ability her vocals have a mature, lived in quality that adds gravitas to her singing. The album title “Up and Down” is a wry reference to her struggles with depression and the emotional quality of her voice is a good balance to the slickness of some of the arrangements.
The album begins with the sophisticated urban pop sheen of Carroll’s interpretation of Laura Nyro’s “Buy And Sell”. Nyro is one of Carroll’s favourite writers and versions of her songs pepper the Carroll catalogue. “Buy And Sell” features an almost Steely Dan like arrangement featuring electric pianos and guitars and discreet horns.
“What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life” offers a total contrast, a wide-screen epic ballad featuring Walden’s sumptuous string arrangements and a powerful, heart-stopping vocal performance from Carroll. It’s undeniably impressive and Carroll invests the tune with considerable emotion. My promo copy comes with minimum of information so I can only assume that it’s McMillan himself who adds the pithy trumpet solo mid tune.
Bobby Timmons’ classic “Moanin’” appears here in a smoky, bluesy vocalese version featuring Carroll’s powerful, soulful vocals. She brings real conviction not only to the words but also to the scat interludes. Elsewhere the arrangement includes Hammond organ plus the lithe tenor sax interjections of the excellent Kirk Whalum.
Tom Waits is another Carroll favourite. A pared down version of “Take Me Home”, originally sung by Crystal Gayle on the movie soundtrack “One From The Heart”, features the trio plus an unnamed trombonist. The song is a staple of Carroll’s live shows and she delivers another stunning, and very moving, vocal performance here.
A gospel tinged “What Now My Love” is another example of Carroll’s soul leanings and features another fine Whalum r’n’b style tenor solo plus an enjoyable feature for our mystery Hammond organist.
“Turn Out The Stars” features the gloriously rich and expressive trumpeting of the great Kenny Wheeler and the yearning vocals of Carroll. Some commentators have have cited this as the stand out cut on the record but on an album of outstanding performances it seems invidious to pick out just one.
In any other hands the string laden version of Arthur Burt’s modern Christmas song “Some Children See Him” would seem unbearably trite but the gravitas of Carroll’s vocal carries the day.
A stunning first take trio version of “Witchcraft” is thrilling in it’s joyousness with a dazzling vocal from Carroll that show her scatting abilities at their best.
“My Funny Valentine” is one of the hoariest old chestnuts in the jazz standards canon but Carroll sheds fresh light upon it with an adventurous vocal performance in an intimate first take performance that also features the velvety flugelhorn of producer James McMillan and the piano of long term Carroll collaborator Mark Edwards.
Two more familiar jazz standards are bracketed together on a swinging segue of “Old Devil Moon” and “Killer Joe” with Carroll revelling in another daring vocal performance. There’s some terrific piano playing here too but the press release doesn’t make it clear who deserves the credit for this.
“Make Someone Happy” is another intimate trio performance with Carroll’s warm voice interacting with Julian Siegel’s breathy tenor sax and Simon Purcell’s carefully modulated piano. Both instrumentalists are given plenty of room to stretch out and rise to the challenge magnificently.
The album closes with a highly emotive, almost solo, rendition of Michael McDonald’s “I Can Let Go Now”, something of a show stopper in Carroll’s acclaimed live performances.
It’s easy to see why Carroll has earned such fulsome praise for this album. It really is a very classy piece of work and McMillan’s production ensure that her vocals are captured superbly throughout. The programme covers a range of moods and styles and although Carroll’s sound remains rooted in jazz the soulfulness of her voice gives her music a much broader appeal. However it’s an appeal that’s been reached without any detectable artistic compromise and Carroll’s success represents a welcome victory for content over style.
“Up and Down” represents something of a change from my normal listening but there’s no doubt that this is very good indeed. In the overcrowded field of vocal jazz Liane Carroll’s quality stands out. I’m now looking forward to seeing her at Titley Jazz Festival this coming weekend in the company of Carey and Fletcher plus guest saxophonist Alan Barnes. Hopefully she’ll play plenty of material from this album.
by Ian Mann