by Amad Franaquer Hassan
Since her 2004 recording debut, Tessa Souter has certainly kept herself busy recording a well-established discography, on Souter’s new Beyond the Blue, her fourth CD and second for Motéma Music, the New Yorker has created a conceptually wonderful idea of assembling a dozen classical melodies by composers such as Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and Chopin. Three of the songs are familiar standards: “The Lamp Is Low” (Ravel), “My Reverie” (Debussy), “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” (Borodin). The others are new standards, with lyrics by Souter.
The press release states “the concept for the project came from Venus Records’ Tetsuo Hara, who co-produced the date with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Todd Barkan and who suggested that Souter work with pianist Steve Kuhn and his trio (David Finck, bass, and Billy Drummond, drums). Augmenting the trio were tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm, vibist Joe Locke, and Gary Versace on accordion. It was Venus that originally released “Beyond the Blue” last year, in Japan only; now Motéma Music is releasing the CD to the rest of the world.” The dilemma is not in the material or the supporting cast; but the vocalist. Souter has a faint accent it seems in her diction which is not a couture experience, but one that distracts the listener from the overall familiarity. Additionally, it almost seems as if she is restrained in her delivery, which further lends itself to an uninspired journey. This had the makings of what could have been a truly brilliant concept album, but instead I have to agree with Downbeat (October 2012) reviewer Chris Robinson, when he stated in his recent review, “unfulfilling, under-conceived and under-executed.” This time, its thumbs down Ms. Souter and Chris was being kind when he gave it 2 stars.