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Michelle Lordi - Two Moons
(Imani Records, 2023)
It has been three years since Michelle Lordi released Break Up With The Sound (Cabinet of Wonders Productions, 2020), a recording that emerged from great loss into the world of pandemic uncertainty. All of those circumstances seasoned an exceptional collection of Great American Songbook performances. Lordi is a master of the repertoire, not because of her reverence for jazz standards, but in spite of it.
Lordi’s Two Moons is a very different recording. It is less wounded, more confident, existing in Hemingway’s “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” The singer comments that “...performing and composing in the Covid months leading up to March 2021... Everything still felt apocalyptic and dire, with tiny moments of light here and there. Nothing seemed sure at that time - in my music or my personal life.” The singer has turned that corner providing us with a considerably different aural environment.
Lordi is supported by pianist (and Imani Label owner) Orrin Evans, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Nasheet Waits, collaborators on three recordings as the collective trio Tar Baby. This rhythm section provides the singer with what she calls “reckless abandon.” The young soprano saxophonist Caleb Curtis and bassist Matthew Parrish contribute significantly to several tunes.
Lordi’s “reckless abandon” might be what comes after post-bop. The singer and ensemble spread the new seeds of this evolution on ten pieces. The pieces are characterized by a sustained low hum of anxiety tempered with confidence and drive of having endured and prevailed. The opening “Both” is a spoken-word exposition of the dream state following upheaval and uncertainty. Cautiously hopeful but suspicious of what is to come. It sets the stage for the remainder of the recording.
Lordi is most capable of selecting her recital pieces. She soothes a rattled “Blue Moon” within the open spaces provided by the band. Her original composition, “Never Break,” is a statement of success following challenge and a promise to those around her. Fearlessly, the singer addresses Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” from an angle, a Rickie Lee Jones deflection off of Joni Mitchell.
The recording’s center exists in the dense presence of “Haunted Heart.” Taken at a slow tempo that would impress Shirley Horn and Rebecca Parris, Lordi encourages the song along with piquant seasoning from Caleb Curtis’s plaintive soprano saxophone. This is an example of standards transformation...transformation into something different than intended by the composers. This is what jazz is: the seeking of new boundaries within those of old.
Lordi expands her search into Alec Wilder’s “Moon And Sand.” Here, the wary, reluctant, and hopeful are all captured and possessed in Lordi’s confident and languid alto voice. Eric Revis provides an informative solo that gives way to Evan’s concept of the blues and Wait’s best Tony Williams’ use of cymbals. Michelle Lordi is evolving from a well-respected vocalist into a musical force of her own. Her minimalist approach complements her voice and writing, leaving her artistically exposed with no place to hide, which is a good thing because she never needed one.