Teri Roiger
& John Menegon,
(Igmod, 1999)

Misterioso is named for its second track, a Thelonious Monk instrumental to which Teri Roiger sings her own lyrics. Each Note Music holds the copyright; appropriate, since it sounds like Roiger is trying to cover each available note, one by one, in a skat style akin to the vocal hopscotch of Cleo Laine. Unfortunately, these tonal acrobatics are not to my taste, and Monk's music would sound better untroubled by Roiger's contribution, "Listen To Your Soul."

The first track is a cover version of Sting's "Fragile," which enjoys a musically delicate blend of John Menegon on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Kenny Burrell on guitar. Roiger's vocals initially made me think of a subdued Bjork, and it seemed to me the song was a cover not only of "Fragile," but ultimately of Laine's style, but lacking her range and confidence. The third number, "If I Should Lose You," redeems the first half of the album, as Roiger settles into a more comfortable key and style, and Menegon's superb bass work shines through. "Sunshower" is a rather weak contribution, with thin accompaniment, and Roiger once again losing end-definition on the high notes. "That Old Devil Called Love" is regrettably not a patch on the original, and it pales into insignificance when compared to Alison Moyet's superbly rich rendition. This cover version drags for much of its performance, but the instrumental interludes are a welcome relief from the rather transparent and hesitant vocals that seldom touch home base.

The saviour of the second half of the album, "Foolin' Myself," is cohesive, well-balanced vocally and instrumentally, and is considerably less pretentious on Roiger's part. It is undermined somewhat by a rather clipped, breathless ending, which diminishes the impact of this sixth track, but remains one of the best on the CD. "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," a tribute to Lester Young and his verbal imagery, begins as an ominous dirge, lyrics courtesy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, then deteriorates into a device which is one of my pet hates -- spoken recitation over musical accompaniment, featuring a poem composed by Roiger. I don't know if Young would appreciate the homage; I personally think the blend of words and music had the potential for more uplifting results than this offering.

There is some good drum expression on the eighth track, "Listen to Monk," an otherwise unremarkable typical jazz piece. Having read Roiger's poetic and expressive lyrics on the sleeve for "Monk's Point," I had hoped she would treat them better, but to my disappointment, she exercised her interpretive right to shift emphasis on the phrasing and returned to her vocal gymnastics. While I appreciate this is an accepted style, she succeeds only in a rather limp imitation of the crisp clarity which has set the standard, and her voice stretches unattractively in the upper registers. The couple of instances when she stays within her natural range and sings "straighter," demonstrate her otherwise pleasant and capable voice to an advantage lost when she tries to force it into another mould.

I'm all for atmospheric jazz, but "Looking Back" is neither mellow nor laid back; this is out cold, flat on its back, with all the ambience of a morgue. The album finally closes with "Light Of Night," music and lyrics by Menegon. This end piece is a pleasant track with confident musicianship and is pitched well for Roiger's voice, but it comes too late to save the day.

Misterioso has a cover design of black-and-white photos, with a hint of blue. The album certainly left me cold. The photos of the quartet, each with their eyes closed, appear to shut out their listening public. To perform thus at a live venue is distressingly common practice, but to present the same need to close out distraction when in a recording studio would seem to either display an alarming lack of concentration or, if posed, an equally bemusing lack of self-confidence. Eyes are considered the windows of the soul, and soul is an essential aspect of music; why shutter the windows and stifle the soul? The cover did not impress me, and would be successful in preventing an impulse purchase. I do not claim to be an aficionado, but I do enjoy more than one facet of the genre. In vain I kept hoping the musicians' potential would be more fully realised, that the singer would find a more suitable style. I do not believe it should be a chore to listen to music -- especially jazz -- I was bitterly disappointed with this CD.

[ by Jenny Ivor ]
Rambles: 7 June 2002

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