Andrea Wolper: Drawing you in with the lure of personal revelations that feel like asides, for your ears only.
Life In Varied Dimensions
By David McGee
Only three albums into her career, Andrea Wolper is gathering the sort of critical momentum more common to a seasoned veteran with a broad catalogue to her credit. Parallel Lives, the third of those three albums, is a further refinement and step forward from the first two projects, this one featuring the surprising choices in outside material that marked her first two long players, with two of the more interesting excursions being a pensive, introspective reflection on a fleeting love affair (“lasted but a kiss…”) in a subdued piano-and-vocal treatment of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Maple Sugar Boy,” in which keyboardist Kris Davis skitters across and searches through the melody with evocative restraint worthy of Bill Evans when he was backing Tony Bennett, as Ms. Wolper alternately engages and succumbs to the melancholic narrative in deploying a range of textures bespeaking abject sadness; and a seven-and-a-half-minute version of “Blue Wind,” in which the optimistic spirit of the Steven Sater-Duncan Sheik tune from the Broadway hit Spring Awakening is rooted in the singer’s resolve not merely to triumph over sorrow but to put it so far in the past it’s wiped from her memory. Ms. Wolper states her intent in a smooth, unruffled demeanor, her voice like a reed instrument floating over emotional bursts of seemingly improvised dialogue between Davis, guitarist Michael Howell and bassist Ken Filiano.
She sings, does Ms. Wolper. Her light, clear voice is brightly adorned in its upper register, strikingly severe in its lower timbre. Disdaining bravura displays of vocal prowess as foreign to her sensibilities, she approaches singing as more a conversational art—at times, notably in three songs she wrote for this project, she’s practically a monologist, drawing you in with the lure of personal revelations that feel like asides, for your ears only. That is to say, she confides in the listener, pauses being her punctuation marks, her airier, soaring flights being her sighs and exultations, the deeper, sotto voce discourses signaling dismay or dark, sometimes ironic, humor.
Andrea Wolper performs a live version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Be Cool.’ The recorded version is featured on Ms. Wolper’s new album, Parallel Lives.
Enhancing the emotional textures of her confessions, a tight, empathetic quartet advances and retreats with laudable respect for the texts, never over- or underdoing it simply to call attention to themselves individually or collectively at the expense of the lyrics’ messages. Always, they serve the soul of the song, in keeping with Ms. Wolper’s unstated but obvious credo
Ms. Wolper’s three original numbers are solid up and down the line. The easy swing of “The Girls In Their Dresses” is as bright and sunny as the lyrics’ summertime setting, Kris Davis is featured on another lyrical, frolicking solo seemingly inspired in equal measure by Monk, Bill Evans and Vince Guaraldi, and Ms. Wolper reminds us of her background as both a poet and an actress with a vibrant spoken word interlude exhorting her sisters to greater personal achievement in a song otherwise noting their curiously static poses, “waiting…for something,” as the season presses on. A sweet memory of “the scent of roses on that one perfect day” keys the languid mood of the summery “June Rose,” as Ms. Wolper walks a fine line vocally between melancholy and equanimity, clearly still feeling the sting of an old affair but savoring the sweetest part of it--an upbeat feeling underscored by a beauty of a light, lilting guitar solo courtesy Michael Howell. Her third song switches seasons and mood--“Waiting for Winter” is a bit bluesy, a bit subdued as she sings about “wondering how to make it through a day” after “love slipped away.” Davis shadows her with moody piano ruminations and Howell emerges at the end putting his own blue-tinged guitar amen to it.
Andrea Wolper’s version of Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love,’ as featured on her 2005 album The Small Hours. Ron Affif on guitar, Ken Filiano on bass.
Otherwise, she kicks off the album with an Impressionistic take on Joni Mitchell’s “Song to a Seagull.” Unfolding deliberately and incrementally, the arrangement gives the singer room to get inside the lyrics’ yearning for freedom as she maneuvers through a steady undercurrent of Davis’s tinkling, skittering piano and the steady rumble of Ken Filiano’s bowed bass. Another Mitchell song, “Be Cool,” from Joni’s 1982 Wild Things Run Fast album, is a swinging, scatting workout featuring Howell’s fleet-fingered runs up the neck in a lively instrumental-vocal dialogue with the vocalist. She’s terrific on straight-ahead Great American Songbook pop, too, caressing the tender Hoagy Carmichael-Johnny Mercer love song “Skylark” with a wistful vocal and turning bassist Filiano and guitarist Howell loose for a subdued instrumental tête-à-tête before she returns to send it home with a hopeful lilt in her voice. Similarly, she tackles Buddy Johnson’s “Save Your Love for Me,” one of Etta Jones’s signature songs, with a tender-tough attitude suitable to the combo’s understated sway, with Davis stepping out for a tasty guitar solo formed from a blend of textures mirroring the lyrics’ emotional complexities. Collectively Ms. Wolper and her impressive band engage the listener with smarts and heart throughout. In all its varied dimensions, Parallel Lives is a winner.