An album featuring a treatment of a Tennyson poem does not come along every day. And the sheer distinctiveness does not end there.
Singer Szandra Szoke’s debut album – what a beginning – Szoke, who reminds me of the style of Patricia Barber on the superb lyrically strong title track, and on ‘In Between the Lines’ even more the lyrics on the latter delving into love in brackets in a memorable phrase.
Joined on the album by pianist Gabor Cseke, impressive with a McCoy Tyner-like sense of grandeur in places and at the peak of his expressionistic powers on ‘Memory Palace’ itself, by trumpeter Istvan Fekete – the main foil for the Hungarian singer providing a treading-on-eggshell muted sound – and by double bassist Peter Olah and drummer Csaba Pusztai.
Szoke sounds very mature and poised, her approach unmannered yet very compelling and not at all held captive by atmosphere. The only thing I wasn’t so keen on here was the spoken word element on ‘Whitewater,’ the recitation disrupting the flow, a small flaw.
Mostly sung in English (an open take on rocker Gyorgy Pribil’s poignant ‘Gyémánt’ the most interesting of the Magyar songs) Szoke’s diction is generally good and she manages to paint pictures as she sings, partly the strength of the lyrics she herself has written and partly through the skill of her delivery.
The Tennyson poem ‘Now sleeps’ (eg ‘Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal’ from ‘The Princess’) is kept to the last of the nine tracks not at all lush or mawkish, more Gothic in a certain sense Szoke hugely compelling in its intimacy “So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip/Into my bosom and be lost in me” the extraordinary last words Szoke sings so convincingly. A really fresh and stimulating album: my sheer good luck and pleasure to chance upon it, maybe yours too. SG