Halie Loren’s Butterfly Blue strikes a perfect balance of classic and original jazz songs. The new blends with the old and the old is made new in Ms. Loren’s renditions of them. Much of the original work is Ms. Loren’s own, including “Yellow Bird”, “Butterfly”, and “Danger in Loving You” (joined by Larry Wayne Clark). Daniel Gallo, playing guitar on the album) contributed a couple as well in “Blue” and “After the Fall.”
The minute “Yellow Bird” spins up, you know you’re in for some lovely vocal jazz. Halie Loren’s vocalization is as much an instrument guiding the melody as any other. He light, precise yet flowing tone gives flight to the song about a caged bird whose only flight are those of imagination: “All we are is made of stardust and sky/ We hold the whole world – The whole world inside. / A yellow bird, she sings / and dreams of things I’ve never seen. / And the yellow bird, her wings/ have touched everything.”
Ms. Halie’s rendition of “I Wish You Love” (Que reste-t-il de nos amours?) is my favorite (my second being Stacey Kent’s). Her melding of an English translation with the French is brilliant (and much more successful than the American offspring). One envisions sitting at an outdoor café just outside the Paris Opera House (Palais Garnier) sipping a Caffè Americano reflecting on a life and love gone by: “Que reste-t-il de nos amours/ Que reste-t-il de ces beaux jours / Une photo, vieille photo / De ma jeunesse?” [translated] “What remains of our love? What remains of these beautiful days?/A photo, an old photo/Of my youth?” This song (or its American cousin) has been recorded by everybody and their mother including Dalida, Nat King Cole (and Natalie), Harry Connick Jr., Sam Cooke and even Marlene Dietrich. So to say this is my favorite is not a trivial, nor due to lack of covers. It all comes together in this version – her smooth and breathy voice, the band and the arrangement of the song.
Speaking of band, they are an integral part of this album and include: Piano & Organ: Matt Treder, Guitars: William Seiji Marsh & Daniel Gallo, Bass: Mark Schneider, Drums: Brian West, Horns: David Larsen (saxophones, clarinet), Joe Freuen (trombone), Dana Heitman (trumpet), Rob Birdwell (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Cello: Katherine Dudney. I don’t normally list out the band members in a vocal review, but this would be a very different album without the level of play these folks provide. It’s tight, focused and always supportive of the vocals.
Halie Loren picks it up a bit with “Blue,” a bouncy tune that still lends itself to be bluesy. Like many of her songs, it depicts the pain of life but points to hope. In this case, parted lovers feeling the pain of separation: “Blue like the deep sea / Colors your country / When we’re driving home / Blue like a moonbeam / Drowning you baby / When you feel alone /These are the things that you see / When you’re looking back at me through the pain But we don’t have to fall.”
“Stormy Weather” is a classic that you never tire of hearing. Ms. Loren brings a breathy quality and lilt to the song that refreshes it and brings out all of the embedded emotion. The solid instrumental backing, especially in the brushwork and brass, help make this version a classic.
Ms. Loren is a bit reminiscent of Norah Jones on “Butterfly.” The pacing, the breathy quality and the lead up to band kicking in all make for a memorable song. I love how she takes on the weary world head on: “Never felt so old, / so ready to fold it all down / so at home on the cold, hard ground. / I’m not chasing sun no more” yet still moves towards hope: “Oh, My Soul, I feel you / reaching for the wind, / longing to begin again… / Butterfly”
“After the Fall” could almost be a lullaby in its own right. After the dream-like vocal reminiscing, there’s a wonderful little moment where the piano and trumpet come together to make this intimate sonic space within the song that evokes intimate moments of solitude and “that mood indigo.” It’s almost as if she is singing to you by the hearth within the warm embrace of the fire’s glow.
Wow, talk about an old staple taken to another place, “Our Love is Here to Stay” uses instrumentation, including Cello and Sax, to give a fun lilt to the song. The brass almost bring a sound reminiscent of a Frank Capra movie (did I hear an homage to Chattanooga Cho-Cho?). The band is well highlighted in this track and does an outstanding job. She takes “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to a new place as well but in a very different way. It has an almost Brazilian bossa nova beat to it.
Every feel like you just walked into a 40’s jazz bar (or wish you could ala Captain Picard’s holodeck)? “Danger in Loving You” will transport you there with its throaty brass-laden jazz and Ms. Loren’s smooth voice. I love her pacing and punctuation intermingled with smooth transitions among stanzas. In a similar vein, the percussion in “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” sets the pace for a playful energy that belie the broken dreams of which she sings. The brass supply the energy for “Carry Us Through,” a song that could carry you through the longest hump-day.
The album ends in Peace. Note, as of the writing of this post, there’s an issue with noise on most digital copies of this song (the CDs are fine). Ms. Loren’s team is aware and addressing this. In the meantime, listen to the perfectly pristine version on Soundcloud. Opening with a haunting piano, this lovely song (often played as an instrumental piece featuring trumpet) musically leads us to that place of peace it describes.
This is another first-class album from Halie Loren. While she continues to wow us with her voice and musical sensibility, her depth grows as she presents more of her own material. This is a fabulous album I’ll listen again and again. I highly recommend it.