... Fortunately for those who have seen only performances [in Hong Kong] for which her talent has been relatively constrained, its full scope is well documented on CD. She has just released her latest, entitled Shimmer . Australian jazz fans will recognise the musicians onboard as an all star cast, including saxophonist and flautist Graham Jesse, guitarist James Muller, pianist Matt McMahon, drummer Nicolas McBride, and bassist Phil Stack.
Choosing to concentrate entirely on vocals during the recording sessions Jensen delegated keyboard duties entirely to McMahon, a pianist she knows well and with whom she says she shares a wavelength. The album was recorded at James Morrison’s studio in Sydney, and Morrison himself guests on flugelhorn, supplying a fine solo on Rodgers and Hart’s My Romance. Jesse has been a particularly crucial contributor, collaborating with Jensen on all but two of the arrangements, scoring all the string parts, and co-writing the music for two of the three originals.
He worked with her on her debut album and the two have frequently shared stages since. “I set out to make a fairly happy album,” she says. “For the first time I explored orchestration - Graham was very keen to do write the string arrangements and I think they add a very lush layer to those tracks. This was also the first time I've ever co-written with anyone. He's very good at giving me a framework for the melody and a deadline for the lyrics!” The lyrics are among her best to date, particularly First Love’s Call, which in some respects recalls Joni Mitchell, and is inspired by her mother’s life.
She shares Mitchell’s gift for catching the nuances of other women’s experiences in simple but evocative lines, as she does in Spend A Little Time with Me, in which she is, she says, “channeling my girlfriends”. Without a Word she wrote unassisted, and is one of a number of songs inspired by time she has spent in Japan. “Soul connections often occur even without the aid of shared common language,” she explains.
On her last album, The Sapphire Tree, she stripped U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For of its bombast and self importance and imbued it with the searching quality the lyric implies that the music ought to have, but which in the original arrangement it so singularly doesn’t. Here she finds unsuspected depths in another unlikely choice for a jazz artist, the Eurythmics’ Here Comes The Rain Again. Other contemporary material includes two Stevie Wonder tunes and Sting’s If You Love Somebody, but otherwise she sticks to the jazz standard book, creating contrasting moods on Toots Thielemans’ upbeat swinging Bluesette, and Mose Allison’s world-weary Everybody’s Crying Mercy… …Shimmer is Bonnie J Jensen’s fourth CD.
The other three are also well worth checking out. Lucky So and So (2001, La Brava Music) A promising debut which includes Jensen originals and displays an original approach to well worn standards. Blue Joy (2004, La Brava Music) Considerable progress evident as both a singer and songwriter, now drawing for inspiration on her international travels. The Sapphire Tree (2007, La Brava Music) Her strongest release before Shimmer picks up where Blue Joy left off, and features several of Australia’s top jazz musicians including trumpeter Miroslav Bukovsky and guitarist Jeremy Sawkins.
South China Morning Post (Review) Written by Robin Lynam
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