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The Idea of North

Evidence (2004)

4.3

August 6, 2004

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 4.7
Soloists 3.7
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 No More Blues 4.3
2 Isn’t She Lovely 4.3
3 His Eye Is On The Sparrow 4.0
4 Evidence 5.0
5 Sister Sadie 4.3
6 Simple Feast 5.0
7 Just Kidding 4.3
8 Corcovado 5.0
9 Rachel 5.0
10 But Not For Me 4.0
11 We Will Find A Way 4.7
12 After All 4.0

Recorded 2003 – 2004
Total time: 47:52, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 No More Blues 5
2 Isn’t She Lovely 4
3 His Eye Is On The Sparrow 4
4 Evidence 5
5 Sister Sadie 5
6 Simple Feast 5
7 Just Kidding 5
8 Corcovado 5
9 Rachel 5
10 But Not For Me 4
11 We Will Find A Way 5
12 After All 4

In the supplementary video on their last release The Sum of Us, The Idea of North's soprano, Trish Delaney-Brown, said the CD "shows where we're at, but has a taste of where we're going." Well, that CD had several tastes of excellence, and that's certainly where they continued to go. On their latest release, Evidence, the group is every bit as effortlessly in control of their sound as on The Sum of Us, delivering a nice mix of smooth jazz, latin jazz, and swing, with covers and several originals.

As I said, their control is phenomenal. The tuning, dynamics, blend, and tone are never wishy-washy; the group has finely honed their skills to the point where the listener doesn't have to think about those things, and can simply enjoy the great music being made. Andrew Piper's bass lines continue to supply solid support for the close harmonies above him, with solid leads stepping out.

8 of the 12 tracks are covers, with tunes composed by Jobim, Camilo, Monk, and the Gerswhins, among others. There's even a Stevie Wonder tune on here (Isn't She Lovely), although it takes a little while for that particular arrangement to get going. The group transitions with ease from the latin rhythms of Jobim and Camilo to the odd meter of Monk's Evidence, from the swing of Horace Silver's Sister Sadie to the smooth sounds of Delaney-Brown's originals.

The originals (all penned by Delaney-Brown) are quite special. Simple Feast has a beautiful ethereal ambience. Rachel has a very tender, melancholy feel with a moving peak and a beautiful lyric. After All is a pleasant and simple closer for the disc, and We Will Find A Way is the most invigorating and energetic of the originals. The arrangements of both the covers and the originals make great use of the four voices, and when instrumentalists join the group (David Jones on drums for Evidence and James Morrison on flugelhorn for But Not for Me) the effect is organic, appropriate, and quite enjoyable.

There is still some room for growth for the group. I'd like to hear the singers take more solos on the tunes, since their soloing is quite strong when it happens (I'm talking about scat solos, not just singing leads). I find the group occasionally singing too straight, as in the verse of But Not for Me, though this was made up for by the gentle swing of the chorus and the phenomenally arranged close harmony of the middle section of the tune. I occasionally wish for a bit more emotional commitment from the soloists, and I think the second and third tracks could have been placed elsewhere on the disc, with some of the stronger tracks occupying these critical early positions.

But here I am nitpicking. The simple fact is that this is a great CD, and any vocal jazz enthusiast would be smart to take a listen. As after hearing their last release, I can't wait for the next.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 No More Blues 4
2 Isn’t She Lovely 4
3 His Eye Is On The Sparrow 4
4 Evidence 5
5 Sister Sadie 4
6 Simple Feast 5
7 Just Kidding 4
8 Corcovado 5
9 Rachel 5
10 But Not For Me 5
11 We Will Find A Way 5
12 After All 5

The Idea of North has one of the more impressive live acts I've had the privilege of seeing. When I saw them at the 2002 ICCA finals, they held the audience captive with confidence and professionalism. Their latest album, Evidence, does a pretty good, but not perfect, job of capturing the group's live strengths.

Tuning and blend are everything in vocal jazz, and The Idea of North's tuning and blend, while excellent, are not quite as seamless as those of the very best vocal jazz groups, like my heroes, the New York Voices. Chords that don't quite ring or go slightly sour are few and far between, but they are there. As a result, the album teeters on the boundary between 4 and 5 territory. What ultimately tips it into the lower category, more than anything else, is poor song sequencing.

The album starts off unpromisingly, with sparse, uncreative arrangements of Antonio Carlos Jobim's No More Blues and Stevie Wonder's Isn't She Lovely. Things improve steadily after that, with track 4, a deliciously weird cover of Thelonious Monk's Evidence, being the first track to really catch the listener's attention. On the whole, the second half of the album is vastly superior to the first; the songs are more interesting, the performances are more energetic, and the intonation and blend are tighter. It is easy to imagine that many listeners won't make it to the last half after being bored by the first. Put your best stuff up front, mates, and leave just enough of it at the end to make it worth having sat through a bit of filler in the middle.

What I'd really like to hear next time around is an album consisting entirely of Trish Delaney-Brown's originals; she is definitely one of the most talented songwriters in today's a cappella world. If there's any justice in the world, We Will Find A Way will be a smash adult-contemporary hit (it's a bit too coy for Top 40). Simple Feast and Rachel are stunning slow numbers that remind me of one of my favorite choral composers, Daniel Gawthrop (Sing Me to Heaven). And After All channels the simple beauty of Irish folk music without sacrificing originality. I was disappointed that these four were her only contributions.

Truth be told, my other complaints with the album (other than general lack of flow) are all nitpicky. The arrangement of Just Kidding suffers from doubling problems that might have been remedied had Delaney-Brown looked over her old theory textbooks. Bass Andrew Piper sings lead on much of the gorgeous, haunting Corcovado (another Jobim cover). On the parts where he is singing lead, there is no bassline. This is fine in concert, but for the album, he should have overdubbed one. And the scat syllables on Sister Sadie are somewhat awkward ("doo-va-oo-va-doo-va-oo-va").

Evidence is an accomplished album worth checking out, but it's not the best album this very talented group could have made.


4
Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 No More Blues 4
2 Isn’t She Lovely 5
3 His Eye Is On The Sparrow 4
4 Evidence 5
5 Sister Sadie 4
6 Simple Feast 5
7 Just Kidding 4
8 Corcovado 5
9 Rachel 5
10 But Not For Me 3
11 We Will Find A Way 4
12 After All 3

I'm disappointed.

Mostly in myself and not with The Idea of North, or their recent recording Evidence.

I'm disappointed that I don't like this album more. After hearing them at the 2003 ICCA finals, but not catching the full set, I think I hyped them and the album too much in my brain for them to be able to produce the recording Iwas expecting to hear. And it could be that my pop/rock influence has completely gotten in the way here.

Nope, after listening on several different stereo setups, I still have the same problem. You just can't hear enough of bassist Andrew Piper in most of the mix. I mean, this man produces such a resonant bed of sound with a excellently buzzy solo quality that I wanted him brought to the forefront. I know, I'm bringing a pop sensibility, but wanting to hear more of Andrew detracted from my appreciation and enjoyment of the other singers — all of whom are blessed with brilliant voices as well. Especially on the more pop/R-B-influenced We Will Find A Way, which called for some thumping bass to really propel the song in a 21st-century fashion.

I did get a little disconcerted by the inclusion of a non-vocal drummer on one of my favorite songs Evidence. They have a competent vocal percussionist as evidenced on other tracks; I'm not sure why they felt the need to bring an instrumental one on for this one.

Parents everywhere will want to pick this one up just for the Stevie Wonder cover Isn't She Lovely. Singing about the birth of a new daughter, Stevie's words encapsulate the joy and love a parent feels upon first seeing their new child.

The energy scoring isn't a reflection of a lackadaisical effort on part of the performers. No, this is a chill album through and through. Corcovado and Simple Feast put me in a Sunday morning groove that just wouldn't let up.

The songwriting is one of the group's strongest assets. Trish Delaney-Brown is a master poet. She delivers lyrics that are simply captivating and constructed in such a manner that first your heart, then your intellect, and finally your soul is caressed by her beautiful thoughts.

Evidence is a completely solid album, one that I will continue to enjoy, but I just wanted something more than what they could deliver.

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