I did not know the singer Marianne Solivan before hearing her at Smalls last year (in duet with Michael Kanan). I was a believer — convinced of her artistry — a few minutes into the first song.
Her debut CD, PRISONER OF LOVE, is just out — perhaps timed to coincide with the end of winter.
It is a wonderfully accurate representation of what she creates in performance, and I do not say that casually about many recorded works.
If you find the disc’s title is off-putting, I will reassure you: Marianne Solivan is a brave, free artist — a prisoner of nothing, as far as I can see. In fact, she has written her own powerful verse to the title song, evidence of talents beyond her singing voice. On this disc, Marianne embraces a wide variety of emotions and textures in her work without being bound to any one of them.
Through intuition, taste, and experience, Marianne has avoided the traps that catch eager “jazz singers.” She surrenders herself to the song, both lyrics and melody, rather than insisting that the song bend itself to her will. This is not to say that she is excessively respectful, bound by the written manuscript, quarter note by quarter note. No. In fact, she takes her own liberties — subtly reshaping the original melody and words as she goes — but her little bends and pauses, elevations and turns, leave me with the feeling that I have heard, for example, a reading of I GUESS I’LL HANG MY TEARS OUT TO DRY that is what composer and lyricist aspired to create. She is just that successful in her sweet inventions.
Although Marianne never “sings like a horn player,” shorthand for someone pretending that written melody, cadence, and lyrics are to be tossed around vigorously, she does remind me of horn players — of late Lester and mid-period Ben, of Jimmy Rowles and early Miles. The singers who stand behind her are (among others) Sinatra and Betty Carter, but she has managed to make her own path around the intense pathos of one and the sharp dismissive edginess of the other.
And what Marianne does with the lyrics is uniquely rewarding. If you consider a sheet of music and lyrics, the words and syllables are often tied so tightly to individual notes that to sing them as written would be like reading a Keats sonnet, accenting every other syllable up and down to a metronome — thus obliterating meaning rather than enhancing it. Marianne doesn’t “speak” her lines — her voice, cello-rich and powerful, will not be ignored — but she gives the lyrics a speech-like naturalness, as if she were discovering the words and the sentiments for the first time. Great acting without an actor’s artifice: no self-pity, no drowning in pathos.
PRISONER OF LOVE is illuminated from within by intelligence, restraint, and headlong emotion. Marianne’s producer is the fine jazz trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, who appears on one track; she and he have the best taste in musical colleagues, including Michael Kanan, Christian McBride (showing himself a fine writer in addition), Peter Bernstein, Xavier Davis, Ben Wolfe, Johnathan Blake. The musicians are enthusiastic but never get in Marianne’s way: indeed, the eleven selections seem like a series of small playlets, of perfectly poised improvisatory conversations.
Here is a video memento of that evening at Smalls when I first heard Marianne — listen closely to her witty, amused, romantic recasting of THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL, where she is sometimes intimate, sometimes annunciatory:
As much as I admire that performance from July 2011, I can hear that Marianne has matured in the half-year since then . . . so imagine her at even higher levels of grace and casual splendor.
To hear her — only a few days ago — both singing and talking to John Schaefer of WNYC, click here.
Marianne’s CD is available at Amazon (for antiquarians like me who prefer the tangible disc and sleeve) and at iTunes for those who believe that music can be sped invisibly through the air: click here for the Amazon link.
And the best news is that the remarkable Miss Solivan will be performing in the next few months not only in New York City, but in Boston and Washington, D.C. To learn all, visit her website here.
I am most excited about another duet performance that she and Michael Kanan will be creating — delicate magic in our ears — at Michael’s studio, “The Drawing Room,” a large, quiet, white-curtained room with a fine piano. It’s at 70 Willoughby Street (# 2A, one flight up and follow signs on your left) in downtown Brooklyn — between Lawrence Street and Bridge Street, this coming Saturday, March 24, 2012. There will be two sets, beginning at 7:30 PM. And, since space is limited (seating for 50!) I recommend that you let Michael (at email@example.com) or Marianne (at her website) know that you will be there. Admission is only $10, and there will be a cash wine bar. Even for people like myself who are moderately challenged by Brooklyn, The Drawing Room is not difficult to get to: a variety of subway lines graciously come there: N,R,Q,B,F,A,C,E, 2,3,4,& 5 trains.
Marianne says, “Working in duo with Michael has been one of the most inspiring and challenging experiences in my life. I love the feeling of flight that I have with him in a song. I get so many musical ideas from him and I am challenged to be creative and honest. The feeling is amazing, I enjoy every minute of making music with him. We will be playing some songs from my new CD, Prisoner of Love, as well as some of our other favorites. Breathing new life into melodies that will never get old. I hope you can come out and share this with us.”
May your happiness increase.