Jackie Allen & Hans Sturm | Landscapes - Bass Meets Voice

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Jazz: Jazz Vocals Classical: New Music Ensemble Moods: Type: Lyrical
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Landscapes - Bass Meets Voice

by Jackie Allen & Hans Sturm

Innovative intimate arrangements performing classic and lesser known jazz standards with surprising twists - "hypnotic", "breathtaking", "evocative, stirring, lyrical, playful, and at times, mysterious, but never gratuitous"
Genre: Jazz: Jazz Vocals
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. I Want To Be Happy
3:36 album only
2. Green Dolphin Street
6:56 album only
3. Blackwater
6:46 album only
4. Only Trust Your Heart
5:34 album only
5. Desert
4:12 album only
6. Mountain
2:52 album only
7. Grassy Plains
3:18 album only
8. Oceans
4:18 album only
9. Rainforest
4:23 album only
10. Dindi
5:17 album only
11. Dream Milonga
8:01 album only
12. You Stepped Out of a Dream
4:11 album only
13. Love Comes and Goes
3:00 album only
14. Admit It
4:28 album only
15. 'Round Midnight
6:27 album only


Album Notes
Landscapes - Bass Meets Voice
Jackie Allen, voice
Hans Sturm, double bass

"The flexibility of both these musicians is striking, especially Allen. Her voice takes on more shapes and forms than one has the right to expect from the human vocal chords. It can be husky, sexy, gracefully pure and most of all, passionate. She can sing straight as on I Want to Be Happy. But most of the time she is twisting and turning her voice as she endeavors to create a singular picture or emotional state of mind, particularly on those pieces written by Sturm. On Blackwater, inspired by the late beat poet Allen Ginsberg's Howl, Allen hums while Sturm talks on the telephone with someone obviously disconsolate and depressed as we hear only Sturm's side of the conversation. Here, his bass takes on an eerie, spongy sound. With the classic Green Dolphin Street, Allen's voice becomes an instrument as she duos with Sturms' bass before moving into a straightforward rendition of the lyrics. This, as much as any track, demonstrates her perfect pitch. There is never a warble of intonation. But it is in Landscapes where Allen's vocal dexterity is brought to bear the most.
Sturm is a master of the double bass. He makes it sound like a guitar, violin, a horn as he plucks, slides, and bows. He does more than accompany Allen, he is her equal partner.
This album ups the ante for voice/bass combination. It's not something one slides into the CD player for background music. Very serious and committed listening is demanded. Given the intensity of the proceedings, some may need a couple of listenings to absorb it all. Irrespective of the number of hearings, Landscapes - Bass Meets Voice will leave most breathless."
Dave Nathan, Jazz News

"This talented duo's experiments in combining improvisational material and well-known songs yield strikingly original results. Both Allen and Sturm contribute imaginative 'spontaneous arrangement' in You Stepped Out of a Dream and Admit It, while Allen's atmospheric vocal beginning above the bass ostinato in Green Dolphin Street, her beautiful vocal ghosting of the bass ostinato in Dindi, and Sturm's brilliant and effective bass playing in Love Comes and Goes and Round Midnight make for exhilarating listening. But my highlight is I Want to Be Happy, which Allen swings splendidly to Sturm's percussive backing or vigorous bass line.
Robin Stowell, Double Bassist

There is little in the way of precedent for what Allen and Sturm do. They will both concede that singers Sheila Jordan and Nancy King and their respective collaborators, bassists Harvie Swartz and Glenn Moore, are sources of inspiration. But the similarities between Allen and Sturm and these duos end there. The other teams deal primarily with standards and jazz songs, deconstructed and reconstructed (in the case of Jordan and Swartz) or rendered in homespun whimsy (as do King and Moore). Allen and Sturm create much of their own material -either improvised or written. In the case of familiar songs, their interpretations are strikingly original. "We're trying to strip the music down to its core," says Allen, well-known as a jazz singer and teacher in Chicago.

"Hans and I started doing gigs together in the early 1980s when we were both in college (University of Wisconsin-Madison)," she continues. "He played in one of my first quintets and we've gotten together for other projects over the years. Hans is definitely the more experimental between the two of us. He's far more studied than I am and he's played a lot of 20th Century classical music, avant garde music and, of course, jazz. I carry my instrument in my back pocket and yet I'm not afraid to explore either. We've found that we each have a need to take the music into new areas." Sturm offers, "This music has taken on a life of its
own. Since I write most of the music, it exists-as does the poetry-in my head first. Then, through the process, it becomes something else again with Jackie's input."

Dr. Sturm has an extensive background as a symphony bassist - with the Dubuque, Madison and Muncie Symphony Orchestras among others - and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. He founded the new music ensemble Fireight (with double bass, percussion, soprano and koto) and works with the Trinkle
Brass Works Trio. The latter group concentrates on the music of 20th Century Latin American composers, with an instrumentation of trumpet, marimba and double bass. He's no stranger to the jazz side of the new music street, either. Sturm studied extensively with bassist Richard Davis and has worked with players as diverse as saxophonists Pete Christlieb, James Spaulding, Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman; clarinetist Eddie Daniels; pianists Marilyn Crispell and Willie Pickens.

Jazz musicians use the word musical to differentiate situations where creativity is part of the equation from settings where their input is akin to assembly line
work. The word is also applied by them (or not applied) to performers. Allen is one of the treasures of current-day Chicago jazz and certainly musical in all senses. She's valued for the layered qualities she's able to invest in a given song, both in terms of technique and emotional investment. Allen is particularly effective on slow tempos (listen to how she fills the spaces on her own "Admit It"), yet she's also an exultantly swinging vocalist. Both of these properties are in evidence on this collection of recordings. The proof in her worth is when Allen can take a shopworn song like "Green Dolphin St." and perform it in a way that
you've never heard before. With Sturm's non-specific pizzicato work opening and Allen just sort of falling in, it isn't until the piece is well underway that the
"tune" emerges. That's called spontaneous arrangement and there aren't many people who do it this well. Conversely, Allen is able to swing a number like "I Want To Be Happy" with only Sturm's percussive backing (tapping on his instrument) or his vigorous bass line and nothing else. The absence of piano in this duo robs Allen of the singer's traditional intonation compass and her sure-footed maneuvering is admirable. This is an artist who can grease her own skillet.

The most adventurous piece here is Sturm's "Landscapes" suite, five movements that serve as tone parallels to different geographic designations. "This work," says Sturm, "was inspired largely by my experience with the Trinkle Brass Works Trio, where we explore the classical music of Latin America. I wrote this with Jackie in mind. I don't know of anyone else with her interpretive powers and the way she turns a musical phrase, so it's tailored for her." It is also one of the most demanding works in their repertoire. Allen recounts, "Some of the things in 'Landscapes' didn't make sense to me, musically. There are places where there
are no measures, no bar lines. This is a form that gets very difficult to navigate, where I've got an entrance that's six-and-a-half beats from a given number or where I have to sing dissonance against a chord. After awhile it began to make sense." Sturm adds, "There are places in 'Landscapes' where both of us line up-obviously in the score-and then there are places where we're both on our own."

"We performed at the Edinburgh International Double Bass Festival," Allen recounts. "We were sandwiched in between two other acts that had big names and we came on, with all these people talking, not paying any attention to us so we decided to go for broke. We got into 'Landscapes' and within about three minutes, the whole place was keyed on us. When we finished we got a huge ovation. It was entirely unexpected."

"Blackwater" is a multi-dimensional work written by Sturm, inspired by the Beat writers - in particular, Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." Sturm's eerily evocative arco work sets the mood and Allen's liquid song-spiel vocals (singing words or just sounds) act as oil on the already murky waters. "Blackwater" operates as a kind of miniature musical drama. Sturm's own spoken text serves as a one-sided dialogue: a scenario of urban dislocation and a story of despair. "This is a combination story of several people from different parts of my life," he elaborates, "and some of them had real tragedy in their lives. I grew up near the Susquehanna River so water is a familiar motif from my childhood. Jackie's telling one story and I'm telling another and the two together make this kind of film noir narrative." The compelling involvement of the various stratum of the piece obscures the fact that this is the work of just two people.

"I like to get the music off of the paper as soon as I can," says Allen. "Some of it has to stay on the page, after all, that's what's written. But it's difficult to know when to freely interpret and when not to. Sometimes Hans will help me with direction. Sometimes I have to figure it out for myself. Sometimes what he gives me amounts to a set of bare bones and it's up to me to put the flesh on them as I see it. I'm trying to figure out what's in his head and how I can reproduce it so a lot of the responsibility is on me."

As Sturm sees it, "We're trying to explore those areas where there are holes in the written music. It's a process of uncovering and discovering, both in terms of limitations-which can be severe-and getting past those limitations. We're stretching and trying, ultimately, to get past those limitations. The essence of what we're trying to do is make beautiful music."

Freedom may not be free, but it certainly can be beautiful. Just listen.

Kirk Silsbee



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