Thought I would try and cheer up your Monday mornings by resurrecting this occasional series of pop tunes receiving a jazzier treatment. This is a delightful version of the Paul Simon classic by Sophie Milman.
Sophie Milman is an absolutely cracking singer, with a gorgeous, smoky contralto. Occasionally she swallows a word or two and sometimes sounds as if she could open her mouth a little wider, but she can swing a lyric wonderfully well.
Milman lives in Toronto now. She was born in Siberia and is of Russian-Jewish descent. Her family moved to Israel when she was seven years old, and to Canada nine years after that. I will forego the temptation to speculate as to whether such a peripatetic childhood and multicultural upbringing has had an influence on her music, but I will say that her choices of songs are certainly more eclectic than some. On her latest album, Take Love Easy, she covers Bruce Springsteen and Joni Mitchell (as well as Paul Simon) in addition to more predictable choices from the standard jazz canon. (Perhaps her most interesting song selection was on her previous album: “It’s Not Easy (Bein’ Green)” – first made popular, of course, by one Frog, Kermit T. She sings the lyrics without any of the knowing archness that you might expect, and, astonishingly, it works as a tender ballad.)
But back to “50 Ways”. Milman has dispensed with Steve Gadd’s sinister, military snare drum that gives the original verse its haunting feel, opting instead for a more laid-back approach, but it’s only at the chorus that things really blossom. Listen to that delicious Latin-tinged piano as it fills in at 1:20. Glorious!
One of the things I like about this version is that Milman has maintained total fidelity with the original song while still making it her own. Often jazzers feel obliged to re-arrange and re-harmonize songs so that they’re nearly unrecognizable. (Brad Mehldau’s version of this same song, while excellent, is a good example of this. If you listen closely you’ll hear a snippet of the melody surface about half way through the eight and a half minute tune, and that’s it.) But Milman has enough confidence not to resort to such techniques. If the song is strong enough, and your performance is strong enough (check, and check), just let the music speak for itself.
Enjoy. Happy Monday to you all.