Vocalist and composer Sophie Dunér – pronounced “do near” – was lovely enough to send a couple of recent releases which I listened to with dutiful interest, given the proverbial unawareness that had prevented my summit with her music to date. This Swedish girl - also a fine painter - might not be flying at superstardom altitudes, yet thick substance and a distinct personality, which distance her from the gazillions of clones infecting this genre, are present in several of these pieces. Going through Sophie’s website, one is linked to a photo in company of none other than Karlheinz Stockhausen - not exactly what one would associate torch-singing to.
Genre, you ask. The City Of My Dreams – a self produced CD – is credited to “The Sophie Dunér String Quartet” and is indeed precisely that: a collection of tunes arranged for voice and strings, running a whole gamut of often unexpected eventualities while showing the influence of theatrical recitals for its large part. Dunér is not afraid of attempting difficult ranges, and in a track such as “Happy People” or “Why” she strives for us to receive the message right (the lyrics are frequently ironic and overall funny) more than caring about technical over-perfectionism. This is appreciable, especially in virtue of the peculiar arrangements and temperaments of the strings, accompanying the renditions with intelligibly discordant counterpoints and Purple Haze-ish cadenzas (“Hey Doctor”), Balanescu meets “Moon Of Alabama” if you get my point. Don’t know why, but “Jack The Ripper” brought to mind reminiscences of Marc Hollander’s Aksak Maboul in its odd-metre walking; instead, “It’s Been Too Long” mixes spicy inharmoniousness and a very lyrical melody to destabilize us in utter absence of fake cordiality. “Silent Revolution” could turn into a million-copy hit if sold to some horribly “soulful” pop singer, but this version – vivid lines of metamorphic counterpoint caressing Sophie’s voce with restrained severity – is wonderful as it is. It only remains to mention the names of the players: Carles Fibla, Emilio Robles, Diego Galaz, Guillermo Martinez, Marina Sorin, Elena Bordevias, Paco Ortega, Silvia Villamor, Hector Rojo, all deserving applause together with arranger (in five tracks) Tony Heimer and sound engineer Javier Lasaosa Fernandez. There’s much to savour in this excellent work, worthy of the utmost attention despite a few fragilities here and there.
The Rain In Spain - released in 2006 on CIMP - is a polite album featuring less deviations from the norm and a number of standards, including “Caravan”, “Lush Life” and “Lonely Woman”. In this case Dunér is accompanied with typical civility (and lack of adventurousness, alas) by guitarist Rory Stuart, bassist Matt Penman and percussionist Kahlil Kwame Bell. What we perceive as almost palpable throughout is the expertise of the musicians, who perform cleanly and specifically, allowing the vocal pitches to remain pertinent to the tune in every circumstance, never exacerbating the listener’s patience with excessively stretched solos. Still, this is a category of jazz where coming out with something original is a gargantuan task – not that the principal intended to break any rule, I believe – and managing to once again welcome yellowed evergreens (pun definitely intended) has become next to impossible for this writer. That's not to say that the record is bad, quite the contrary – it’s properly interpreted and particularly urbane – but if you want to enjoy the real essence of this lady from the North, go for The City Of My Dreams, a point of departure that promises and transmits better things than this assortment of largely emotionless candlelit scenes.