LAIKA FATIEN / “Strange Fruit”
In printing there is a technique called blind emboss, the shape of the letters are pressed into the paper but no ink is used. It’s extremely subtle, sometimes hardly noticed. Imagine Braille but raised only to half height. Indeed, you can feel it better than you can see it. Laika is like that.
Her sound is not merely soft, what she does is a definition of cool. Some time it doesn’t sound like she’s even trying to sing. Listen to your own breathing. Are you fully aware of the sound of air moving in and out your body? We breath naturally without giving it much thought; Laika’s singing sounds like breathing.
When I first heard one or two cuts by Laika Fatien, I thought, ok, pleasant but nothing I want to listen to on the regular. Oh, how wrong I was.
On a second listen (which was many, many months after the introduction), I noticed how good the band was, was especially impressed by the tenor player: David El-Malek.
El Malek is Jewish, born in France, and has a beautiful album called Music From Source (in the jukebox I’ve included two tracks from Malek’s impressive release, “Haggadah” and “Sissu et Yeroushalaim”).
Then I heard a second Fatien album, her new Billie Holiday tribute. Not only was the band killing on this one also but beyond superb musicianship, Laika was doing very, very hip arrangements of standards intimately associated with Billie.
It was clear to me, the hipness is her; she’s making it happen.
Now that I’ve listened a number of times, I’m totally feeling her tenderness. Laika’s subtle singing is like the soft fragrance of a rose garden in full bloom at twilight when the beauty of the rose bloom is more its fragrance than its appearance.
Laika’s artistry is easy to miss if one is in rushing or looking to be bowled over by pyrotechnics. Fatien is utterly without melodrama; even though there are no theatrics, her technique is much more daring than it seems on the surface. The beauty is in the phrasing, the sure and sensual seriousness of her sense of rhythm. She swings with style, caressing the beat like a lover touching your knee or the feel of a kiss tongue-whispered in one’s ear.
“Throw It Away,” an Abbey Lincoln composition, is a dramatic song but here given an understated arrangement. El-Malek’s tenor obbligato is superb, they duet like dancers in love.
Laika's version of “Eleanor Rigby” is by far the most sensitive rendering I’ve heard—and I’ve heard a lot of versions. Accompanied solely by Pierre de Bethmann’s shadowing piano, Laika gives deep meaning to the lyrics through micro-diminuendos and crescendos, mixed with sounding some notes staccato and others legato.
“Bird Alone,” another Abbey Lincoln song, literally floats from note to note, all those beautifully timbred long tones demonstrate Laika’s exquisite breath control. All three of the aforementioned songs are from Laika's album Look At Me Now! The backing band is: Pierre de Bethmann – piano, Jules Bikoko Bi N'Jami – bass, David El Malek – tenor, and Dré Pallemaerts – drums.
Fatien’s new album, Misery, the Billie Holiday homage, is nothing short off a total triumph. I selected five tracks, each with it’s own strength: “Strange Fruit,” “What’s New,” “How Deep Is The Ocean,” “Lover Come Back To Me,” and “Left Alone.” This time the band is: Robert Glasper – piano, Daryl Hall – bass, David El Malek - tenor saxophone, and Gregory Hutchinson – drums.
Many of us have head these songs seems like forever, or at least for as long as we can remember listening to jazz. If you are a jazz head and over forty, you’ve probably heard Billie doing these songs; hell, you probably have a recording of at least one of them. And yet—and hearing is believing—these arrangements are both unique and familiar. Fatien keeps the basic song structure in front of us, but also reshapes the song, so that it is sort of new, or sounds new, or… well, that’s Laika’s gift: a unique approach.
I can’t say which song I love more. I can say the album is a major statement. Laika Fatien is a rarity, a genuine jazz vocalist, and that alone would be worth giving her a good listen, but more than rare she’s also great at what she does.
Born in Paris in 1968, her mother is a Moroccan-Spanish Jew, and her father is from the Ivory Coast. Fatien currently makes her home in Spain. She sings in English without any noticeable accent; one of her most remarkable qualities is how authentic she sounds. I don’t know what language(s) she grew up speaking but I can hear that jazz is now her mother tongue.
Many of us had thought jazz vocals were stylistically exhausted, after all, we had not heard any truly new, good news in a long, long time. Well, listen up to Laika Fatien: the rebirth of cool jazz vocals.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Monday, October 27th, 2008 at 2:39 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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