Viktoria Tolstoy: You Can't Go Home Again

The combination of a jazz singer named Tolstoy with songs drawn from Russian classical music might seem like a project driven by a clever marketing angle rather than an artistic vision. But I am happy to report that Viktoria Tolstoy delivers a first-rate jazz performance on My Russian Soul. Cynical fans may wonder about Tolstoy's fickle national allegiances, given her previous CD My Swedish Heart, but I find these Slavic tributes cogent and convincing. Tolstoy's singing is emotionally grounded and sweetly unaffected, whether she is taking on Tchaikovsky or, as in this instance, Rachmaninoff spiced with Don Sebesky. It's hard to hear this song and not be reminded of Chet Baker's defining statement of it, yet Tolstoy finds her own space within the melody. But even without the fine vocal, this track would be worth checking out for the contribution of Nils Landgren, who deserves to be far better known outside of his native Scandinavia. If you've only heard Landgren as a 'bone funkmeister (a role he fills to perfection)—or haven't heard him at all—check out his ballad work in this setting.

March 12, 2009 · 0 comments


Chet Baker: You Can't Go Home Again

  Chet Baker, artwork by Michael Symonds

Don Sebesky takes composer credit here – and also handles arranging, conducting and electric piano duties – but the song is based on the slow movement of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto. (Eric Carmen borrowed the same theme for his pop hit “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again," released one year before the Baker LP.) This is a classic track by any measure; however, I would have preferred this performance without the string orchestra. Do you really need to enhance a rhythm section built around Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Kenny Barron? Baker delivers a top notch solo here, but Desmond steals the show with one of the most incisive improvisations I have ever heard. The altoist would be dead, from lung cancer, before the album was released, and he hardly had enough breath for his brief solo. But he makes every note count in this moving swan song.

November 19, 2007 · 0 comments


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