Sue Rynhart’s a Dublin singer and song composer who draws principally on classical and jazz traditions for her musical inspiration. She communicates her artistic vision in her songs with precision and immediacy, combining grace and energy while deliberately placing her voice within the context of sparsely scored, emotion-baring musical settings.
Signals is Sue Rynhart’s second album of original songs, and it’s a truly extraordinary experience, which the over-used stock phrases “unique” and “independently quirky” would significantly undersell. Everywhere, musical and literary boundaries are creatively blurred, yet the result is always precisely expressive. On its predecessor Crossings (2014), Sue’s voice was set against nothing more than the stark yet full-toned, artfully responsive double bass of Dan Bodwell, and Dan also appears on Signals. But it’s also one of those albums where every track is different, literally, whether in the deployment of bare instrumental resources or in tempo, mood or inflexion.
Compassion, the new album’s lead track, deploys only Sue’s a cappella vocal, gorgeously layered, initially wordless then laconically voicing her own enigmatic poetry. It could almost be described as avant-garde, but without the barrier of unlistenability that label normally implies. Sure, other singers, from Laurie Anderson and Björk through to Ange Hardy (to name but three), have been experimenting with vocal layering techniques, but each in her own strikingly individual way and with a personal expressive goal. Here Sue’s interest is, I suspect, as much in the sensuality of the sound as in the meaning of the words sung; and interestingly, the quality of sensuality is revealed as much through the careful precision of Sue’s voice as in its physical properties. The second song on the album, Be Content, is introduced by, and propelled along on, Dan’s busily syncopated double bass, with the jazz idiom informing Sue’s delivery – at first scattish, subsequently delicately pointing the meaning from the lyric.
The next song, Foxed, is almost cinematic (in a serious-cartoon sense), wherein the stealthily animated double bass personifies said animal every bit as much as Sue Rynhart’s beguilingly sinuous vocal (both in word and line) that it shadows. Track 4, The Tree, is certainly the strangest of the disc’s musical experiences; it opens with a scary whispered section, which gives way to an eerily pure sung vocal line with discordant overtones, later poised airily above an insistent groaning double bass drone, finally playing out on a seemingly inconclusive twittery recorder coda (depicting restless birds perched in the higher branches?). The Coldest Month finds the double bass treading carefully on the ice of the studio floor, above which Sue sings a frostily folky melody. Perhaps it’s something of a companion piece to the next song, Black As The Crow Flies, a bold creation where the bowed bass stalks the night sky below Sue’s uneasy twinkly wordscape full of sinister imagery that finally yields to a frenzied bebop jubilation.
Then it’s back to Sue a cappella for the beautifully evocative ringing cadences that voice the playfully succulent supplications of Summer Bell, followed by the (here unusual) sound of a lute (guest musician Francesco Turrisi) to accompany Sue’s anguished troubadour reflections on Silliest Game – probably the most conventionally art-song-influenced of all the disc’s songs. An aching double bass arco undertow both characterises and permeates the queasy stasis of In Between, where Sue attains an uncomfortable higher-pitched potency punctuated by stabbing mbira ostinato. Little Sparrow returns a pointed delicacy of expression above Dan’s birdlike tripping bass footsteps. Sue’s florid, angular In Dulci Jubilo edgily rejoices to the timeless thud beat of a medieval drum (Francesco again) before massed choral harmonies join Sue in the concluding mantra. The final track – Wall, Wall, Another Wall – sets an impenetrable spoken text against a slower-paced vocal chant, with each element shifting in and out of focus as in a half-experienced dream; though I’ll admit that the sense/meaning/logic of just this one track has eluded me even after many plays of the whole album. Here, more than anywhere else, I really wish I had the lyrics to hand to get to understand just what’s going on in there. Even so, Sue’s atmospheric lyrics would all I suspect make fantastic reading as poetry even outside of their prime, intended musical context.
The disc is impeccably recorded, with the intense natural resonances of the double bass, in particular, being brilliantly caught while maintaining a credible perspective with the deft expressiveness and tender cadences of Sue’s voice.
Not wishing in any way to denigrate Sue Rynhart’s achievement by merely peddling cliché, but I’ll stick my neck out and say that Signals really is one of the most exciting, rewarding and stimulating albums I’ve heard so far this year.
Dubliner Sue Rynhart’s first collection of songs, Crossings, was a blast of fresh air, a set of musical haiku that flew past the genre nets, borne only by the composer’s delicate voice and Dan Bodwell’s sympathetic double bass.
Three years later, Rynhart’s new songs continue the journey: frank, unclichéd lyrics and stark, skeletal arrangements make for songs that sound at once ancient and modern, with echoes of folk and early music, contemporary jazz and the avant garde, recalling Theo Bleckmann, Bjork and a hint of Joni Mitchell.
New elements, like documentary sound clips, the multi-tracking of her own voice, and the presence on three tracks of early music specialist Francesco Turrisi, add other layers, but the combination of strength and fragility that made the first record such a jewel is still there.
Following her impressive debut, Crossings (Songs for Voice and Double Bass) (Self Produced, 2015), Dubliner Sue Rynhart returns with more finely crafted, beguiling songs. Once more, bassist Dan Bodwell lends hefty doses of jazz-inflection, his infectious ostinatos and roaming improvisations shadowing and shading the contours of Rynhart's artfully through-composed pieces. There are more timbral textures on Signals than its predecessor; Rynhart's deft use of mbira, recorders and zither, and Francesco Turrisi's lute and Medieval drum add specific colors that are, in the main, more mood-shaping than folkloric per se, while post-production wand-waving lends a touch of harmonic depth. Essentially, however, it's Rynhart's enigmatic, bewitching sung-poetry that burrows its way into heart and mind.
If Bodwell provided the anchor last time out, and his contribution here is equally significant, on Signals Rynhart occasionally casts boldly adrift of her moorings, going solo on both "Compassion," with its choral-like, layered vocal harmonies, and on "Summer Bell," a subtly lyrical sung-poem about lovers picnic-ing, where the purity of Rynhart's voice entices as much as the sensuously woven verse: 'He takes out a plum and he gives the plum to her, and she'll eat the plum slowly, she all on her hot summer back.'
Throughout the album, Rynhart's lyrics, tantalizingly open to interpretation, are so alive with color, atmosphere and suggestion that they would stand up very well as a set of poems. "The Coldest Month" in particular harbours darkness between the lines that belies Rynhart's gently spun delivery.
The poetic nature of Rynhart's lyrics is underlined on the whispered text of "The Tree," where Bodwell's bass creaks like a great trunk bending to the wind, and Rynhart's flute evokes chirping bird-song in a composition of bucolic melancholy. 'Where are the birds who nested in me? Where is the fox that shivered by my side? Oh cry my soul! For what I have soon will die with me'. The fox rears his head on 'Foxed,' a hypnotic tale of some ambiguity; Bodwell's ostinato churns to the rhythms of Rynhart's beguiling vocal on a song which seems to tap into ancient Celtic folkloric wells while remaining highly personal.Rynhart's vocal improvisations are also her own; her scatting on the upbeat 'Be Content'—with its positive message of following your chosen path—and on the cinematic 'Black as The Crow Flies'—laden with striking imagery of hair on a pillow, bones washed up by the ocean, a crow flying across a new moon—feel delightfully carefree, in stark contrast to the lovingly chiselled poetry and cadences of every sung word.
The singer's canticle-like "In Dulce Jubilo" is given rhythmic backbone by Francesco Turrisi—of L'Arpeggiata fame—on Medieval drum. The Italian's strummed lute and beautifully articulated arpeggios have a more contemporary feel on "The Silliest Game," a song which could almost have come from Nick Drake's pen. Mbira pulse, bowed bass and Rynhart's high-pitched vocal steer the terse yet affecting "In Between," while "Little Sparrow" charts a beautifully simple melodic course. "Wall, Wall another Wall" blends looped spoken-word and ethereal vocal to curiously dream-like effect.
For all the rich lyrical veins that Rynhart mines, economy is one of her greatest strengths, with most of the tunes clocking in at around three minutes. These are beautifully sculpted vignettes that seduce on multiple levels. She's only two albums in, but already Rynhart sounds like one of the most original emerging voices in the hazy world where folk, improvisation and contemporary song entwine.
Track Listing: Compassion; Be Content; Foxed; The Tree; The Coldest Month; Black as the Crow Flies; Summer Bell; Silliest Game; In Between; Little Sparrow; In Dulci Jubilo; Wall, Wall, another Wall.
Personnel: Sue Rynhart: voice, mbira, recorders, zither; Dan Bodwell: double bass; Francesco Turrisi: lute, Medieval drum
Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Mrsuesue Records | Style: Vocal
MRSUESUE RECORDS 002
Vokalisten Sue Rynhart, kommer fra Irland, et land med jazztradisjoner som ligger litt for tett opp mot de engelske til å være ekstremt spennende. Men siden de har sin sterke folkemusikk som basis for tilværelsen, så har vel kanskje ikke jazzen vært det man har satset mest på.
Men vokalisten Sue Rynhart har en del å melde, etter min mening. Hun synger jazz med en klar tilnærming til den irske folkemusikken, og hun gjør det på en ytterst sjarmerende måte.
Hun har en relativt lys stemme, som hun utnytter til fulle på denne platen. Det starter med låten «Compassion» som hun gjør solo, og legger flere lag med stemmer på hverandre, noe som hun gjør med stor overbevisning og gjør at vi spisser ørene. Derfra fortsetter det over i det irske, som tredjesporet «Foxed», som gjør duo med bassisten Dan Bodwell, og her er vi langt inne i den irske folkemusikktradisjonen gjort på jazzvis. Det fortsetter med den mer eksperimentelle «The Tree», hvor hennes klassisk skolerte, eller folkemusikalske stemme kommer godt til sin rett.
De fleste låtene gjør hun duo med Bodwell, en duo som fungerer godt sammen, mens hun på det sjuende sporet, «Summer Bell», som hun gjør solo, og jeg får en følelse av svenske Kraja. På to låter, «Silliest Game» og «In Dulci Jubilo» kompes hun av Francesco Torrisi på lutt eller medieval drum, og vi får et litt annet lydbilde, som gavner spenningen på plata. Men det er hele veien Rynharts stemme som er hovedingrediensen.
Og hele veien låter det nesten magisk av hennes lyse stemme. Men så har jeg også stor sans for kvinnelige, irske vokalister, særlig når de beveger seg inn mot folkemusikken.
Sue Rynharts plate «Signals» er ei plate som bør få mye oppmerksomhet. Hun er en dyktig vokalist, som omgir seg med fine musikere, som ikke tar plassen til hovedpersonen, men pusher henne heller til å yte enda mer. Vakkert!
Sue Rynhart (v, mbira, recorders, zither), Dan Bodwell (b), Francesco Turrisi (lute, medieval dr)
16. april 2017
Av Jan Granlie
“STAND UP, MAKE IT HAPPEN, live your precious life… stay on your path and lose your way…”
All it took was a few, short excerpts to be drawn into the magic of Dublin-based vocalist and songwriter Sue Rynhart’s twelve-track album Signals. A collection of jazz-inflected folk compositions, it continues the partnership with Dan Bodwell established in 2014’s debut release Crossings. The revelation is that the perceived acoustic simplicity of voice and double bass actually presents such a richness of unpredictable artistry, with Rynhart’s imaginative and individualistic approach perhaps comparable to Björk and Lauren Kinsella, and her synergy with the multi-faceted technique of Bodwell endlessly compelling (so much so that a shiver of emotional pleasure is never far away).
Melding melodic Irish folk tradition and enigmatic poetry with oblique, atmospheric twists, the duo radiates a beautiful, contemporary freedom of spirit. Rynhart’s pure, dextrous voice communicates her original writing in a personal, storytelling way that suggests it simply wells up from inside and demands to be heard, whilst Bodwell’s pizzicato-dancing bass is able to shift into arco lyricism and mystery. Descending-bass jazz number Be Content has a catchy familiarity, whilst smouldering Foxed couples a subtle, thrummed bass groove with Rynhart’s wide, enquiring phrases (“Oh little red fox I know you’ve been there, but today your coat looks brighter than a gemstone rare”). Dramatic whisperings and close-to-the bridge bass creaks in The Tree precede a plaintive annunciation which becomes elaborated with wisps of choral psalmody and the classically-interpreted folk of E J Moeran or Vaughan Williams; Little Sparrow‘s autumnal melancholy is simple and tender; and The Coldest Month‘s openness lilts with harmonic bass colour.
Closely layered vocals in Compassion are extraordinarily intricate, and haunting harmonies in a new interpretation of In Dulci Jubilo (with multi-instrumentalist guest Francesco Turrisi providing drum rhythm) suggest the period work of Trio Mediaeval. A contemporary edge is maintained by the dark, arco bass and fluid vocalisations of In Between, accentuated by Rynhart’s persistent mbira chimes; and Black as the Crow Flies (“Twinkle twinkle are your eyes tonight, black as the crow flies on a new moon and never went home”) stands out with its hushed tones and an especially captivating, pliant bass motif from Bodwell. Sue Rynhart paints so vividly with words and music, the repeated phrases of solo piece Summer Bell offering an impression of distant peals across endless fields; Turrisi’s baroque-ornamented then rock-grooving lute in Silliest Game perfectly complements the elegant, bittersweetness of this new Irish folk song; and Wall, Wall, Another Wall closes with a dreamy overlay of speech and floating, sung phrases.
Signals is different… original… and enchantingly transports us to another place. “Lose your way and I’ll follow you.”
Sue Rynhart voice, mbira, recorders, zither
Dan Bodwell double bass
Francesco Turrisi lute, medieval drum
mrsuesue Records – MRSUESUE 002 (2017)
Sue Rynhart Duo
The council chamber of Bray's Town Hall was a far cry from the main stage of the National Concert Hall, where Sue Rynhart and bassist Dan Bodwell opened for Tomasz Stanko's quartet during April Jazz 2015, but theirs is music that translates beautifully in intimate settings and on grander stages alike. Rynhart has received critical acclaim for her debut album Crossings: Songs for Voice and Double Bass (Self Produced, 2014), which provided the bulk of the material played.
Bodwell unleashed a stream of memorable bass ostinatos that underpinned Rynhart's personal tales of emotional crossroads faced. The singer's crystalline articulation drew on jazz, Irish folk and pop idioms alike, blurring the lines in a captivating performance. Bodwell's deep arco on the stunning "Wine Dark Sea" replicated the foghorn at the Kish Lighthouse, sympathetic accompaniment to the seductive poetry of Rynhart's lyrics.
On one captivating vignette Rynhart played mbira (thumb piano), accompanied by Bodwell on arco, but in the main the blueprint of bass ostinato and vocals dominated. The notable exceptions came on "Emerge," where the roles were reversed, with Rynhart's vocal riff supporting Bodwell's lead lines, and on "Red Light," where a striking arco intro gave way to layered vocal harmonies—the only occasion where pedal effects were employed.
Rynhart's improvisational prowess was central to "Wait and See" and especially "Stones," where her non-syllabic scat was cartoon-esque in its thrilling sense of abandon. By contrast, the haunting melancholy of "Stay Warm," the dreamy "Penny for your Thoughts" and the Irish folk-tinged ballad "Foxed" were lyrical highlights.
Several new tunes were premiered; "Little Sparrow," inspired by Homer's Odyssey, "Your Silliest Game" and "Compassion" sat well with the older material and demonstrated that Rynhart and Bodwell are not sitting still—searching for new lyric inspiration and incorporating fresh dynamics to their shows.
The final song of the set, "Somewhere to Go," exhausted pretty much all of the duo's prepared material as they were clearly surprised by the vociferous calls for an encore. After a brief consultation, the duo played a beautiful version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Dindi" capping a bewitching concert in a suitably poetic style.
Dublin vocalist Sue Rynhart is an explorer in the flexible spaces opening up between what used to be called jazz and classical music. Her charmingly quirky songs are warm and unexpectedly frank, free from either musical or lyrical cliche, each one a beautifully formed musical statement – and each as different as the last. But what is boldest and most impressive about this fresh-as-a-daisy debut are the arrangements: Rynhart creditably places her precise, delicate voice in the starkest, most revealing of settings, the low thud and rumble of Dan Bodwell’s double bass. Bodwell, an American based in Dublin, is another musician with a foot planted in both musical camps, and his thoughtful, uncluttered accompaniments provide a startling contrast to Rynhart’s sweet and edgy vocals.
Life is a series of crossings: fear to courage; love to heartbreak and from one time and place to the next. It's the bare emotions and the mind-sets inherent in such hazy transitions that provide the inspiration for vocalist/composer Sue Rynhart, who is joined here by Dublin-based American double bassist Dan Bodwell in intimate musical communion. The stark setting of voice and bass boldly frames the poetry of Rynhart's lyrics, while the duo explores the rhythmic and harmonic avenues to hand with a lovely sense of controlled freedom.
The music is as unclassifiable as the musicians themselves. Rynhart and Bodwell each has one foot in modern jazz, and another in contemporary music fields that run the gamut from classical to improv. A little bit of all these influences seeps into the songs. Certainly, in Bodwell's thudding bass ostinato and Rynhart's free-from-cliché scatting on a song like "Somewhere to Go" there's a nod to the jazz tradition—albeit a decidedly modern take—but there's a pop sensibility about much of the music as well.
It takes little effort to imagination grungy guitars behind "Wait and See" or a Bjork-like arrangement on the beautifully crafted, arco-buoyed "Wine Dark Sea," with the lines "and in her healing is compassion, and in forgiveness there's relief...and in fear there's a lion and in acceptance there is peace, and the fog passes over the wine dark sea." Rynhart's lyrics are alternatively enigmatic and incisive, and like the best poetry, invite meditation.
Rynhart blurs the lines between spoken and sung narrative on "Sing," repeats a single lyric on the ambiguous "When You Get Home" and improvises freely on "Stones" in a non-syllabic language like tape run backwards. Rynhart's sometimes quirky, adventurous delivery is an important part of her idiom but on the whole it's the haunting beauty of her voice that leaves a lasting impression.
On the serene "Stay Warm" and the semi-unaccompanied, lyrically evocative "The Fourth Lock" a gently folksy air prevails, one that crosses ghostly bridges between early music and Sean-nós traditions. "Penny for your Thoughts," by contrast, is a delightful slice of slow- burning indie-pop balladry. Bodwell's brooding bass lines shadow the rising-falling cadences of Rynhart's voice on the moody "She Has Music," which could yet become, with a little imaginative rearranging, a death metal anthem.
With four of the tracks under two minutes and only one topping the three-minute mark, Rynhart's narratives may be succinct yet they carry an undeniable emotional weight. What's also striking, is the flexibility of Rynhart's vocal approach, which makes each song a fascinating, self-contained journey. Though Bodwell is a significant partner in the dialogue, you could just as easily imagine Rynhart singing these compositions entirely unaccompanied or alternatively with a full backing band. A little of both these scenarios is hinted at in the music, which makes for a compelling aural experience.
In a Dublin music scene that currently boasts a wealth of innovators, Sue Rynhart's wonderful debut positions her as one of the most original and talented of new voices. A name to watch out for.
Track Listing: Somewhere to Go; Wait and See; Wine Dark Sea; Sing; When You Get Home; The Fourth Lock; Stay Warm; Penny for your Thoughts; Emerge; She Has Music; Stones.
Personnel: Sue Rynhart: voice; Dan Bodwell: double bass. Record Label: Self Produced
“A series of songs united by the theme of crossing which can be a crossing from emotions like fear to courage or from sleep to waking or from the physical and the carnal to the spiritual and mediative. For such relatively minimal means textures wise; voice and double bass, Crossings packs quite a punch at times and a pretty diverse series of moods. Sue Rynhart is a very fine singer and an even finer vocalist. We say that because there are moments where she explores the very concept of the vocal. Her openness to the likes of opera, folk music, jazz, experimental work and even popular song informs her approach song after song, story after story and moment after moment on Crossings. And Dan Bodwell is an able allay in kicking down the cultural prejudices that often surround his instrument the double bass.”
"Beautiful vocalist…wonderful composition" – BBC
“An excellent Irish album from a rare talent. - John Kelly, RTÉ
“Full of striking songs and vivid ideas.” - Jim Carroll, The Irish Times
“Music unclassifiable really, perhaps coming out of the jazz tradition with nods to improv and the experimental” - Bernard Clarke, Nova, RTÉ lyric fm
“Rynhart's excellent debut release”**** - Cormac Larkin, Irish Times
“Watch out for angel voice Sue Rynhart” - Róisín Ingle, The Irish Times
“Brilliant young singer from Dublin, Sue Rynhart” - Bernard Clarke, RTÉ Lyric fm
Sue's critically acclaimed debut album crossings was nominated Best Jazz Album in the Irish Times Ticket Awards 2014
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