Monday, November 2, 2009

Kat Calvosa - Chrysalis


Kat Calvosa is a young jazz singer. Chrysalis shows all the joys and pitfalls of that statement. Calvosa shows a great talent for jazz singing, and her band can swing or take it down for a tender ballad. And the fact that Calvosa writes all of her material here is a bonus. But Calvosa shows gives us glimpses of several possible futures. She might continue with jazz, and deepen her groove and develop more of her own voice. She might decide to go pop, and become just another singer songwriter with a pop-jazz touch. Or she might layer on the strings and orchestration in a later release, and go for the Sinatra effect. Commercially, any of these strategies might work, and all are hinted at here. But I hope she decides to go with spare arrangements, and develop her jazz voice. To me, that’s what sounds truest here.

Calvosa sings in a low soprano voice with just a hint of sweetness. She can play with the rhythm without ever losing the beat. Her band supports her well. They can play drums, stand-up bass, and piano. Or, they can change the feel, going with drums, electric bass, and electric piano. Either way, they interweave their lines with Calvosa’s vocals, creating a whole that is richer than the parts. And that is what the listener hears as the album starts. Then, a few tracks in, acoustic guitar and background vocals appear. Late in the album, there is one song that uses electric guitar and organ. Only this last one seems to me to belong on a different album. The rest holds together well.

Chrysalis opens with the song The Brooklyn Dodger, and we immediately get a wonderful introduction to Calvosa’s gifts as a song writer. Here, she imagines an old man sleeping in the subways, and dreaming of life in a Brooklyn Dodgers uniform. It is never clear whether this a fantasy or a memory, but it doesn’t really matter. Either way, this is a moving portrait of a man with two lives. Baseball serves as both an alternate reality and a metaphor. In the space of an average-length song, Calvosa creates a work of great subtlety and nuance.

The Brooklyn Dodger is no fluke. Calvosa hits the mark with her songs throughout the album. In See It Rise, Calvosa imagines jogging every day past a site where, at first, a beautiful old house stands. The house is torn down, and she jogs past a growing pile of rubble. And she knows that the site will soon contain a new building, a tribute to modern construction, but a structure with no personality. A Rose is a subtle love song, more of a caress than an embrace, and all the more tantalizing for it. Impossible Is Nothing uses billboards as a metaphor for a woman’s growing self confidence. So Calvosa shows an original perspective, and a gift for metaphors.

The only misfire here is The Voices We Ignore. This is a well-intentioned plea for compassion for the less fortunate. It is very difficult to do this sort of thing well, and many songwriters far better known than Calvosa have stumbled. this also the song I mentioned earlier, that doesn’t fit musically with the rest of the album.

But, over all, I really enjoyed Chrysalis. I hope Calvosa sticks with the small group jazz, because it’s a great sound for her. And I am eager to see where her songwriting goes next.

Kat Calvosa: The Brooklyn Dodger

Kat Calvosa: See It Rise