What does it mean to be normal? In today’s age of technological saturation, the question takes on special meaning when there are countless examples of odd and even nasty behaviour out there. One doesn’t have to look very far to find a plethora of weird nuts wallowing in their own skewed sense of reality.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with the unusual. I revel in it, in fact, and apparently so does Lorraine Feather.
The jazz vocalist’s latest, Tales of the Unusual, traffics in stories of the strange. Feather mines the tales for the humanity under the abnormality, discovering threads of solitude, insecurity and despair. At times, luckily, there are also moments of sublime wonder, joy and beauty.
The conversational, easygoing style of Feather helps these pieces from not sinking into despair. She sings with delightful engagement, showering the songs with wonder and good humour regardless of the subject.
Just like Feather’s 2011 Grammy-nominated record Ages, she makes use of long-time collaborators like Eddie Arkin, Russell Ferrante and Shelly Berg. Feather handles the lyrics, digging out inspiration from a host of unusual sources like non-fiction accounts of Amazon explorers and fictional stories from The Twilight Zone and The X-Files.
“The Hole in the Map” opens Tales of the Unusual with a patch of piano and an eventual groove that invites us into Feather’s interpretation of The Lost City of Z. The tale of Percy Harrison Fawcett, an Amazon explorer who disappeared in 1925, rings almost like a fable with bug-like percussion.
Atmosphere lingers in other places, too, like with the haunting “Where is Everybody?” with its Twilight Zone inspiration. Violinist Charlie Bisharat adds beauty to the piece.
Even in the album’s stranger moments, it’s hard to escape Feather’s humour. She sings of a little girl obsessed with a number on “Five” and talks of the relationship between a seemingly mismatched pair on the vibrant “Get a Room.”
With Tales of the Unusual, Feather once again proves why she’s one of the most interesting jazz vocalists going. Her clear tones and brilliant diction bring these strange stories to life and the band’s take on the material shows that the groove is still out there.