Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ezra Axelrod - Patria/ The Enfield Sessions

[purchase The Enfield Sessions]

[Free download of Patria]

Note: Patria and The Enfield Sessions are two EPs by Ezra Axelrod. Both are available as free downloads, but I have given a purchase link for The Enfield Sessions, because I believe that Axelrod deserves to be paid for what he does. Patria is only available as a download at the time of this writing. Axelrod sent me both EPs burned together on one disc, so I am reviewing them as a single album.

Ezra Axelrod delivers a set, (actually two sets, but they go together pretty well), of songs for piano and voice. On most tracks, he adds stand-up bass and drums. There are some overdubbed vocals, which allow him to add chorus vocals. And that’s it. This results in songs that are subtle but intense. My regular readers know of my bias against oversinging, and that would be a disaster here, in such a spare setting. And given that Axelrod has studied opera performance, he certainly could do it. But Axelrod knows that this is his setting, and he knows how to make this work brilliantly.

The piano is featured, with the bass adding depth and occasional counter melodies. The drums are mostly played with brushes, providing a subtle pulse. Axelrod’s voice is a smooth baritone with a bit of a catch to it, that he controls perfectly. He also uses a light falsetto here and there. Axelrod puts over quite a range of emotions with his singing. Signal presents a man who has been injured and is drifting into shock; Axelrod’s singing makes this believable. Reinvention presents a man who is on the outs with his lover, but in the course of the song, they are reconciled and there is the promise of a new beginning; you can hear all of the intermediate shifts in emotion in Axelrod’s performance. Elsewhere. Axelrod conveys irony, resignation, anxiety, and even bittersweet nostalgia.

Axelrod conceived the three songs that make up Patria as a song cycle. The setting is some unnamed Latin American country. The songs are about the human cost of war. They are not political. There is no mention of what the war is about. Rather, Axelrod is interested in what the war does to those who become caught up in it. There are details missing, which make these songs impressions rather than stories. A man who has left his own country to join “the cause” reaffirms his loyalty to that cause after his capture; the people of his native land are now the enemy. Two brothers, one seriously wounded, emerge from a shelter into a city that has been bombed out of existence, and wonder if their signal for help has been heard. And a group of men find themselves on the losing side of a revolution fought to undo the revolution that was won by their fathers. These are big issues, but Axelrod narrows them down to the affects on individuals. He avoids the trap of sermonizing about the evils of war; he simply presents his characters and lets them speak.

The Enfield Sessions is a set of five songs with no overarching theme. But some of the songs echo each other in theme, and even have thematic connections to the Patria songs. People leave their familiar settings. We saw this in Patria, with the man who goes to join the cause. Now, in Father, we meet a son whose been trying to reunite with his father; the father seems to be a man who can never stay in one place for very long. And This Town gives us a man whose parents have been taken away after the father committed a murder; the son must leave the town himself, or live with the damage to his reputation. And just as Patria suggests broken dreams, Southern Way tells the tale of a man who sought fame in Hollywood, but instead found a life that was all too real. But, even taking Patria and The Enfield Sessions as one album, Reinvention is the closest thing to a story. Here, Axelrod describes a pair of lovers who are both writers; they read each other, and their relationship deepens. But there comes a point where they seem to break it off; when they reconcile, their relationship seems to have gained a new strength.

So, Axelrod explores some emotional territory you don’t usually see covered. There are some great images here, but also there are songs where I supplied my own images, based on what I was hearing. That hardly ever happens to me, so it is very much to Axelrod’s credit.

This music sounds fine, but I am curious to know what Axelrod would do with fuller arrangements if he could afford to hire the musicians. Whether or not he chooses to ever to do that however, I will be listening to hear what he does next.

Ezra Axelrod: Signal from Patria

Ezra Axelrod: Southern Way from The Enfield Sessoins