Brenda Earle | Songs For A New Day


I first heard of Brenda Earle when she came to Humber College a few years ago to speak and perform. She told us her life story, more or less, and it was impressive and inspiring. Her jazz chops on the piano, her pursuit of the highest level of vocal technique, the bravery in her composition, and her fierce forward momentum in her business skills as a solo artist, combined to show her in the light of a practical role model, whose successes were hard-won but not completely out of the reach of the students in the auditorium.

Earle remains impressive. Her latest album, Songs For A New Day, contains thoughtful arrangements, solid solos, and showcases Earle’s vocal range and accuracy, along with a few of her compositions. But somehow, the global effect is a little bizarre.

The arrangements are often too busy and the dramatic arc of several of the tunes seems truncated. A little re-harmonization on Cole Porter’s “You’d be so Nice to Come Home To” can be fun, but in this case, doesn’t improve upon the original. Only one improvised vocal solo was included, which was disappointing, since I know how erudite and impassioned a scatter she can be. The vocal interpretations were often stilted, more aimed at pitch-and-timbre management than lyrical expression, to the point of sometimes sounding weird; no matter how crucial a note in the harmony, the word “at” doesn’t sound right when sung determinedly as the climax note of a phrase. I love odd-time interludes and switch-ups, which she included on her cover of Neil Finn’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” That, being the longest track, at 7 minutes, was my favourite, not only because of the beautifully paced arrangement and the several-tiered climax, but also because of the better use of the voice within. Earle’s voice has a bright, brassy quality that can be strident when let loose at the wrong moment but ecstatic and exultant at the right one; there were several right ones on this track. I am not a fan of her lyrics. The emphases of her words sometimes fight with the emphases of the melodic lines, and much of what she says is hackneyed and unfocused.

The sound of the album as a whole is intricate, thoughtful, and well played by solid jazz musicians. But I see the brushstrokes. I see how the pianist in Earle planned the structure, wrote the arrangements, and sang each note with a determination to make it true and clean — which they were. Yet the parts do not come together. Earle’s beautiful voice remains a blunt instrument of musical communication.

by Tova G. Kardonne June 2009

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Tova G. Kardonne
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