The jazz is the thing. Yes, there may be elements of rock, psychedelia and neo-classicism on Exchange but, ultimately, it's the jazz that holds sway, that keeps you listening and keeps playing in your head long after the CD has stopped turning; it's the jazz that knits this fine collection of compositions together.
Emily Bezar's Exchange, her fifth album since her 1993 debut Grandmother's Tea Leaves is an album dominated by the sounds of jazz; the jazz whose sound, often fused with other influences, permeates these ten compositions to a greater or lesser extent. The other main element of the soundscape is, inevitably, Emily's own voice: whether singing "straight" or utilizing it almost as an additional instrument, the strength, range and beauty of her singing add wonderful color to this music. Operatically trained and with a range here that stretches from mezzo to the high soprano, she nevertheless avoids the pitfalls that arguably some other artists with high notes have fallen into - that of making the voice THE dominant factor in the music. This music is balanced, always interesting in its various fusions which, apart from the straight jazz, range from psychedelic rock to neo-classical. It makes for an enjoyable and compelling album!
Emily herself plays piano (and how!) and keyboards and is joined at various times by Dan Feiszli (basses), Mark Bernfield (drums), Michael Ross (guitar), Phillip Greenlief (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones), Chris Grady (trumpet), Jen Baker (trombone), Alan Lin (violin) and Beth Vandervennet (cello). All of the music and lyrics are Emily's with the exception of the violin on "Winter Moon", which is improvised by Alan Lin.
"saturn's return" and "anything they say" start the album off at a good pace with a couple of predominantly jazz-rock fusions which introduce the main elements of the soundscape to good effect: the voice, the singing, the piano, the jazzy rhythms from the band. The rocky element is left behind temporarily for the slower "lament", nearly a straight neo-classical piece but again with whiffs of jazzy perfume, this music is pleasant, never harsh. "that dynamite" and "heavy air" return to the jazz-rock, featuring both good pace and good changes of tempo.
The mood changes slightly for "strange man", the electronic keyboards and synthesizer in its first half introducing a psychedelic element, then the jazz returns with a vengeance before, finally, some electronic experimentation takes us out. It's an effective mix! The neo-classicism returns for "glory or crazy", the jazzy element still there but not as strong as on some of the preceding numbers. "climb" on the other hand is pretty straight jazz, featuring some wonderful piano and singing.
Psychedelia returns for "winter moon", the album's longest composition, this moves between the other-worldliness of the psychedelia, which includes for the only time some warbling special effects treatment of Emily's singing, and the jazz via some neo-classicism. Finally, the album's title track takes us out in peaceful style: "Exchange" is a soft, beautiful, virtually solo piano piece, neo-classical style, the jazz finally exhausted, the piece takes us out softly, gently....
The album's production (Emily again!) is just fine: the sound is crystal clear with a good balance in the mix (Justin Phelps).
Overall, it's a fine album of piano-led jazz-inspired fusions and rewards the listener who is prepared to be attentive and give it repeated listenings.
1) saturn's return (6:52)
2) anyhting they say (6:02)
3) lament (6:00)
4) that dynamite (5:53)
5) heavy air (7:32)
6) strange man (9:55)
7) glory or crazy (5:31)
8) climb (7:49)
9) winter moon (11:12)
10) exchange (4:56)