Subtle Poignancy and Sophistication on Jazz Chanteuse Simone Kopmajer’s Latest Album
Singer Simone Kopmajer‘s latest album With Love – streaming at Spotify – is often lush, and symphonic, and sweepingly beautiful. Imbued with equal parts jazz and classic torch song, it’s akin to a vintage June Christy record with less of a mentholated cool and more breaks in the clouds. Kopmajer’s a little bit Jenifer Jackson, a little bit Paula Carino, another brilliantly nuanced singer from a completely different idiom.
Kopmajer, her band and string section waste no time in setting a mood, going full steam on the mist in the opening number, The Look of Love, rising from stark to lush over the spare piano accents from pianist John Di Martino and the tiptoe groove from bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Reinhardt Winkler. The orchestral sweep of violinists Sara Caswell and Tomoko Akaboshi, violist Benni von Gutzeit and cellist Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf elevate the song to new levels of expectant suspense, no disrespect to the Dionne Warwick original.
Kopmajer and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen float suavely over pianist John Di Martino’s spacious, sagacious chords in How Wonderful You Are. Next, they reinvent Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Until It´s Time For You to Go as a wistful nocturne for voice and restrained, gospel-tinged piano
I Can´t Make You Love Me is a subtle blend of trip-hop and jazz, with a low-key, soul-inspired sultriness. The first of the originals here, Opposites Attract, is a fond throwback to peak swing-era Ella Fitzgerald. The album’s piece de resistance is the alternately stark and lavish version of the BeeGees’ How Can You Mend a Broken Heart: Kopmajer’s restrained cadences unleash the song’s innermost angst.
Gottfried Gfrerer propels Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold Heart with low-key acoustic and National steel guitar behind Kopmajer’s purist countrypolitan interpretation. Then she reaches toward Blossom Dearie territory as Allen wafts in and out in a low-key, swinging take of I´m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.
Stevie Wonder’s For Once in My Life gets reinvented as elegant chamber pop, with swelling, baroque-tinged violins. Kopmajer’s second original is Take It All In, with Di Martino on both organ and piano: it could be a more retro take on a Steely Dan ballad.
She duets with Sheila Jordan on a playful swing through Everything Happens to Me: the nonagenarian jazz legend is indomitable and has updated the song for the digital age! The take of the Aaron Neville hit Tell It Like It Is turns out to be an unexpectedly undulating jazz waltz with a dynamically shifting Allen solo at the center.
Kopmajer and Di Martino then turn in an intimate jazz ballad version of Nashville pop pioneer Cindy Walker’s You Don´t Know Me. There’s another song here, but its expiration date was up a long time ago. Kopmajer’s next gig is on March 10 at 8:30 PM at the Oval in Salzburg in her native Austria; cover is €32. And Allen is leading a trio with Andy Brown on guitar and Mike Karn on bass at Mezzrow on March 10-11, with sets at 7:30 and 9 PM; cover is $25 cash at the door.
Fun fact: Kopmajer says she has sold thirty thousand cd’s in Thailand. If she did that here, she’d have a #1 album.