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bright lights & promises: Redefining Janis Ian
Vocalist Sarah Partridge reimagines a collection of songs by the famed folk artist, Janis Ian, whose hits ‘At Seventeen’ and ‘Society’s Child’ have resonated with listeners for many decades. Long respecting Ian’s musically and lyrically rich body of work, Partridge saw evidence of jazz roots in much of her writing and, along with arranger Allen Farnham, created inspired paths to presenting the songs in a jazz environment. The album contains thirteen selections both old and new, popular and unheard, dating from the late 1960’s to the present, including two new originals co-written by Partridge and Ian – ‘Somebody’s Child,’ and ‘A Quarter Past Heartache,’ which features them both on vocals.
Nobody familiar with Ian's oeuvre would argue against saluting her work, but the folk-ish qualities that carry her musical art, whether materializing through a flower power lens or tackling life's truest cruelties, don't necessarily call out for jazz rewrites. Fortunately, that didn't stop Sarah Partridge from pursuing this project. After connecting with Ian, she couldn't get the idea out of her head. She may have had her doubts about where she could go with the music, but those doubts didn't deter her one bit. Partridge's worries ultimately proved unfounded, as she put together a compelling program that touches on different facets and eras of Ian's career. It's neither disloyal to the originals nor congruent with them. It exists in its own space, leaning on the everlasting songs of Janis Ian while resting atop Partridge's firm artistic footing.
The playlist includes nuggets from the hippie days of the '60s, bluesy fare from the '70s, latter day works penned in the past two decades, and a pair of songs co-written by Partridge and Ian just for the occasion. Ian's best known work makes the cut, as it should, and it simultaneously fulfills and defies expectations. "Society's Child," for example, seems to merge the aesthetics of Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell without losing an ounce of its eye-opening purpose, and "At Seventeen" glides along in seven on an airy cloud while Partridge presents the song's bitter pill realizations with incredible poise. Both are highlights, but it's almost wrong to call out any individual songs for special praise. All thirteen tracks work beautifully. What's not to love with an album that includes a samba-fied "Calling Your Name," a soulful "Belle Of The Blues," a hard swinging "Silly Habits," a blues-drenched "Bright Lights & Promises," and a newly-penned "A Quarter Past Heartache" with Ian herself joining in?
One of Ian's chief gifts has always been her ability to mine the world's depressive truths and show us the horrors of reality. That certainly isn't lost on Partridge. In collaborating with Ian to create "Somebody's Child," a piece that touches on the understanding that the homeless and helpless of the world were once the young and innocent children of mothers and fathers, and in covering the chilling "Matthew," a song about the beating and killing of Matthew Shepard, Partridge follows Ian's path and makes us confront subjects that are often far too difficult to discuss. The same holds true with several other songs that receive emotionally reverberant interpretations—"Tattoo" and the aforementioned "Society's Child," most notably.
The musicianship here is superb throughout—you shouldn't expect anything less when Tim Horner is driving from the drums, Scott Robinson is covering reeds, Allen Farnham is manning the keys and arranging the material, and other heavy hitters are in the mix—and Partridge hits a bull's-eye on every single song. She can scat, strut, soar, and tear your heart and soul to shreds without ever breaking a sweat. She's that good, these performances are that memorable, and this album is most certainly one for the ages.
I Never Thought I'd Be Here
A dazzling interpreter of classic and popular standards over her twenty-year career, Sarah Partridge introduces her own collection of songs on “I Never Thought I’d Be Here.” While influenced greatly by traditional standards, her lyrics point to more modern themes as she explores the moods and textures of life, ranging from dark to joyous. She is joined by her long-standing working band of distinguished New York musicians – pianist & arranger Allen Farnham, bassist Bill Moring, drummer/percussionist Tim Horner, Paul Meyers on guitar, Scott Robinson on saxophone and flute, and trombonist Ben Williams.
In this expanded format, Partridge takes the reins and guides her instrumental quintet through a decade of originals characterized by expansive and memorable melodies grounded with impressive arrangement and performance chops. Partridge's composing harkens back to a Broadway base. Her songs have a bigness about them, something goes beyond her support. The presence of Scott Robinson's saxophone and flutes and particularly, Ben Williams tart trombone ("I Just Won't Let you Go" a stand out) tempers Partridge's already steady and subdued voice, making for a very satisfying outing.
Moving through the album, my dominant thought was simply, “Why isn’t Partridge a household name?” Particularly when, as jazz historian Sanford Josephson notes in the album jacket, she is accompanied by the talented Allen Farnham on piano, along with five other superlative jazz musicians (Bill Morning on bass, Tim Horner on drums, Scott Robinson on the tenor sax and the alto flute, Ben Williams on the trombone, and Paul Meyers on the guitar.)
Songs like “Grace” and “Caverns of My Heart” convey a decadent yet tentative languor, while more up-tempo songs like “Light of Day” and “I Never Thought I’d Be Here,” with their bold horns and swelling crescendos, confidently assert her pursuit of new intentions and ways of being. Throughout these alternations, one thing remains constant: the velvet exuberance of Partridge’s voice. Unlike some club singers whose technique falls short of their personality and heart, Partridge has serious vocal chops. I find myself listening to these songs again and again and agree with Josephson that “some of the album’s songs are destined to become new standards.
You Are There: Songs For My Father
Sarah Partridge dedicated You Are There to her late father. She performs songs that he loved, tunes he might have loved, and numbers that she wished she could have sung for him. Daniel May leads the rhythm section with Tony De Paolisand and Jeff Grubbs alternating on bass and guest appearances by trumpeter Sean Jones.
...Ms. Partridge belongs to a tradition of jazz singers who use hard rhythm as a kind of emotional armor. Instead of exploring the interior worlds of her material, she sustains the image of a plucky, can-do gal and good sport who swings at a steady jogging pace...
At the opening show her voice suggested an unlikely fusion of Nanette Fabray and Anita O’Day: Ms. Fabray for the upbeat talky quality of her enunciation and sometimes fluttery vibrato and intonation, and Ms. O’Day for the bedrock swing propelling her scat improvisations. That rhythmic security is Ms. Partridge’s strongest asset.
Her new album is a case in point. It is a tribute to her deceased father, and the one original song, the affecting "Dancing in My Mind," finds her reminiscing on childhood memories, and on loss, from a grown-up, philosophical perspective. That same perspective pervades Partridge's outlook on her somewhat non-traditional, yet largely happy career.
Blame It On My Youth
Sarah Partridge’s second recording as a leader loved by jazz fans everywhere for its smooth approach to 14 standards. Partridge is joined by pianists Allen Farnham and Larry Ham, guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli and Gene Bertoncini and drummers Rich DeRosa and Sherrie Maricle.