Heather Masse and Dick Hyman Lock My Heart
Red House Records SACD SC258
he unlikely pairing of veteran jazz pianist Dick Hyman with the most recent member of the Canadian folk group The Wailin Jennys may seem like an obvious attempt at creating a genre-bending fusion album, but that would be very wrong. Hymans resume is long, varied and well-respected. He should be familiar to most, and audiophiles especially, for the CDs he recorded on the Reference Recordings label. Masse is about as far from the jazz world as one can conceive, but her love of the music traces back to her days as a student at the New England Conservatory of Music. So maybe it was only natural that she jumped at the chance to record jazz standards alongside someone of the stature of Hyman. Basing the repertoire for the most part on the music of the Great American Songbook, with songs from George Shearing, Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn as well as two of Masse's own compositions, this album radiates a deep and abiding love of jazz. One can even be excused for thinking after hearing these songs that Masse, like Hyman, has been in the jazz world her whole life.
What makes this pairing work? For one thing, this is not a star/accompanist session. Instead, it's a meeting of equals, both knowing that a simpatico relationship between the two participants along with a deep understanding of each song are requisite. That Hyman understands these songs should surprise no one -- he has surely played most of them hundreds of times. Listening to Heather Masse, however, is a real treat. She has perfect diction along with a depth of feeling that she infuses into each syllable she sings. While she sings in a mostly straightforward manner, the songs never sound mailed in. Masse manages to sound like this is music she has grown up with. As an example, listen to her rendition of "Since I Fell For You." As she varies the tempo slightly, she places emphasis on just the right syllable to make the song sound like she is singing just for you. I found the two songs Masse penned to be the real standouts. "If I Called You" and "Morning Drinker" fit the concept of the album perfectly. The former is a slowly played and sung lullaby. The latter is a more personal statement that Masse and Hyman perform in a way that makes you feel you are peering into soul of the musicians. The final number, "Im Gonna Lock My Heart (And Throw Away The Key)," is both an amusing version and a fitting closure. Hyman plays like hes 25 again, and Masse adds a touch of playfulness to the proceedings.
Thanks in large part to the superior resolution of the SACD format, both Hyman's piano and Masse's voice sound immediate and true to life. This is all to the good, because with only a piano and voice there is no place for any sonic problems to hide. It's not hard to get the sense of Hyman's fingers dancing over the keyboard or to hear Masse varying both the power of her voice and amount of air while singing each word. There is also enough sense of recording's own acoustic to lend a feeling of liveness to the proceedings.
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