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But Beautiful by Sara Caswell

I have heard CDs featuring classical greats (often singers) attempting jazz performances with disappointing results. But Beautiful, Sara Caswell's first Arbors release, is definitely not in that category! Caswell, who plays world-class violin, is at home on either side of the classical/jazz fence. She is a graduate of Indiana University. where she studied violin with Josef Gingold and jazz studies with David Baker. Her studies included the baroque repertoire with its emphasis on improvisation and her musical experiences run the gamut from performing newly-commissioned violin arrangements with symphony orchestras to touring as the youngest member of Four Generations of Jazz with Darol Anger, Johhny Frigo, Joe Kennedy Jr. and Matt Glaser.

Caswell is stellar and subtle with a technique that is formidable without being showy. She can also swing like mad. What a gift for improvisation! For example, on the title track, her no-frills opening chorus and warm tone reminds us that there is nothing more beautiful than pure melody played with feeling. She creates an alternative melody that is just right with a connection so seamless that you will wind up doing the listening version of a double take.

The well-thought-out program is based on ballads, folksongs and jazz standards. Her original, "Professor ABC," dedicated to her musicologist father, is a rollicking and joyful tune that suggests Sonny Rollins. He must be some kind of professor ... and dad! Three of the tracks feature a Caswell violin/vocal duo, involving her talented sister Rachel. The sisters give Billy Joel's "And So It Goes" the flavor of a Celtic lament. They swing and scat on Ron Carter's "Receipt Please" and there's haunting beauty in Rachel's wordless take on "Shenandoah" and again in Sara's solo variations on "Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair."

Sara and the group also apply their considerable talents to an up tempo " The Way You Look Tonight" and the seldom-heard "Moon and Sand" by Alec Wilder. Their "Blackbird" displays many moods. Wayne Shorter and Bill Evans are recognized with an impressionistic "Black Nile" and the lyrical waltz "Some Time Ago."

The group's deliberately disjointed treatment of "Straight No Chaser" magnifies the eccentricities of Monk's music. Dissonance! Shifting accents and time! Obviously a lot of fun for the players - and a treat for listeners.

Credit is also due to pianist Lynne Arriale, who shares production and arranging honors in addition to anchoring the rhythm section (basically her trio) and providing sensitive accompaniment. Caswell and Arriale worked together on Caswell's debut album and the empathy of this group is palpable.

Forget that classical/jazz fence mentioned in my opening paragraph. Sara Caswell has torn it down! I'm looking forward to the next CD by this brilliant young musician.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Sara Caswell
  • CD Title: But Beautiful
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Arbors Jazz Records
  • Tracks: The Way You Look Tonight, Moon and Sand, But Beautiful, Professor ABC, Black Nile, And So It Goes, Sometime Ago, Receipt Please, Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, Bye Bye Blackbird, Straight No Chaser, Shenandoah
  • Rating: Five Stars
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