Parallel Lives
Andrea Wolper (Jazzed Media)
by Francis Lo Kee

Andrea Wolper’s voice is as clear as any singer on the scene now and that clarity is not only technical, it’s emotional/motivational as well. Paraphrasing Wolper in her liner notes she states that living in New York, with its vast musical diversity, it would be a form of denial not to embrace all that life and music the city offers. Not simply a pastiche of styles, Wolper’s new album Parallel Lives is more like a musical journal, a series of reflections of living in the big city, written in sound.

Many of the song’s aspects are of city life or, in the case of Joni Mitchell’s “Song to a Seagull”, being in the city versus being out of the city. Each selection has a life of its own that can only exist through the honesty of Wolper’s expression. From folk legend Buffy Sainte- Marie’s “Maple Sugar Boy” with only simple piano accompaniment (Kris Davis) to the expansive and exploratory “Blue Wind” that features elements of free improvisation from the entire band, Wolper delivers each sound-world with total artistic commitment. Speaking of total artistic commitment, guitarist Michael Howell’s contributions to this recording are consistently strong: whether a Chicago style blues solo on “Waiting For Winter” or sensitive accompaniment on “Skylark”, his guitar work is a highlight of Parallel Lives.

The leader’s talent goes beyond singing on this album, too - she contributes three original songs to the program: the sultry, swinging “The Girls in Their Dresses”, “June Rose” and the aforementioned “Waiting For Winter”. It’s the fascinating and absorbing track “The Girls in Their Dresses” where Wolper really dares to bare her soul, by putting aside her perfect singing voice and rather choosing to speak to the listeners, to describe a summer scene but also an existential human condition of 21st century city living. “June Rose” wisely features Howell’s guitar (with no piano) and is so well written that it sounds like an old standard; evocative lyrics of a summer garden give way to perfect guitar solo with a bossa nova groove from the smoky bass and gentle drums. “Who Will Buy?”, originally from the Broadway musical Oliver!, belies composer Lionel Bart’s lifelong struggle to balance beauty and suffering and Wolper’s soaring interpretation brilliantly conveys the feelings in those masterfully written lyrics.

With a wonderfully supportive band rounded out by bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Michael TA Thompson, Wolper has created a generous invitation for listeners to open their hearts to the beauty that surrounds us everyday here in New York.