Review: Moments in Time (Alex Pertout and Nilusha Dassenaike)

Moments in Time
Alex Pertout and Nilusha Dassenaike (Whispering Tree Music)
Distributed by The Planet Company

CD Review by Peter Kenneally

Dark Star Rising

Moments In Time cover

It must be hard being a singer. Songs can be such unyielding bastards, even if you’ve written them yourself. This is clear at various points during the new album by percussionist Alex Pertout and singer Nilusha Dassenaike. There’s a fairly even mix of originals and covers, and between songs where the lyrics are prominent and those where the vocal is more an instrumental articulation.

There is a very particularly jazz kind of song, or singing, where the lyrics are lingered over and poured out slowly, as with the title track of ‘Moments in Time’, which has a lingering beauty, as this does, but also presents problems.

To linger means to linger: so the lyrics are exposed, and a little poetry is more than enough. In a slow song the jazz voice stretches yearningly for wordlessness, and in many ways the vocals on this album are happiest when they arrive there and are ‘instrumental’. But let me instantly qualify my seemingly faint praise, because it’s not always so. There’s a lot of mellifluousness at play here – occasionally too much – and Dassenaike’s voice makes the most of it, but works best when the lyrics cluster more densely and demand that it be explicit.

In Jobim’s ‘Waters of March’ the words, so dense and declensive, are necessarily precise, held in a web of percussion and punctuated by spare, self-possessed piano from Tony Gould. In fact, although most of the piano on the album is from Joe Chindamo, and melds effortlessly with the latinesque, percussive sway of the whole, Tony Gould’s playing counterpoints instead: definitely a combination worth pursuing.

Gould is only present on a couple of tracks, and one of the pleasures of Moments in Time is the way musicians appear and fade away at exactly the right moments. Saby Bhattacharya on sarod lends an ineffably spangly edge to several tracks, particularly ‘Waters of March’. Miroslav Bukosky on trumpet is perfect for the swing of ‘Afro Blue’, giving the whole thing a lovely nostalgic (for me) tinge of Harry Beckett style mid-eighties agitjazz à la Working Week. Venceremos indeed.

In ‘Between You and I’ a song by Dassenaike herself, a crisp, driven ‘microfiction’ of regret and heartache, the story is real, and the vocals rush playfully along, with many a brave sally against the limits of the line. As if there isn’t enough room in the house of language for the emotions in the song, she breaks out, into a Sinhalese chant, and into knowing, glancing wordlessness.

It’s all driven along by and part of the rhythmic net around it: when this happens, and it does often, the album draws you in and entrances you. Never more so than on ‘Walk with me’, the purest collaboration on show: just the two of them, she her own choir and he a pulsing sun of beats.  Pertout is at all times the foundation, however unobtrusively so. He’s like the tortoise supporting the world: and the infinite number of tortoises below as well.  So it’s fitting that to close the album there’s a track that sparely showcases him on the cajon, (that’s that thing that looks like a tea chest, in case you’re wondering) along with Chindamo at his bassgrace best, and Dassenaike at her most carefree.

Strangely, for an album centred on a percussionist and a singer, there’s restraint everywhere, and it won’t reach out to the other side of the room and grab you in. Playing it louder isn’t the point. Maybe it’s the production, but as soon as the headphones go in and all the timbres and textures of the music can be heard, it’s a lovely experience. Like a dark star, once you get close enough, you’re lost. Enjoy the ride: there’s more light inside than out.

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 About the CD

Moments In Time [2012] Whispering Tree Music. Distributed by The Planet Company/MGM

1. Moments In Time [Alex Pertout / Lyrics by Nilusha Dassenaike]
2. Waters Of March [Antonio Carlos Jobim]
3. Afro Blue [Mongo Santamaria, Oscar Brown Jr]
4. The Wind [Nilusha Dassenaike]
5. You Can Close Your Eyes [James Taylor]
6. Between You And I [Nilusha Dassenaike]
7. Baba Soroso [Alex Pertout – Traditional Afro Cuban Chant]
8. Equinox [Walk With Me] Elegua Ago [John Coltrane / Lyrics by Nilusha Dassenaike – Traditional Afro-Cuban Chant]
9. Manaus [Alex Pertout]
10. Morning [Clare Fischer]
11. Free [Deniece Williams, Hank Redd, Nathan Watts, Susaye Greene – Traditional Sri Lankan Folksong]
12. From The Heart [Alex Pertout]

Nilusha Dassenaike: lead and background vocals, handclaps

Alex Pertout: congas, marimba, reco reco, cowbell, cabasa, berimbaus, vibes, glockenspiel, windchimes, temple blocks, ibo, kanjira, bongos, shekere, castanets, shaker, cajon, triangle, claves, handclaps, tubular bells, gongs, frame drum, bombo, karimbas, okonkolo, woodblocks, guataca, bembe drum, timbal, snare drums, pandeiro, cuica, tamborims, surdo and percussive effects

Miroslav Bukovsky: trumpet and flugelhorn | Dave Valentin: flute | Leonard Grigoryan: guitar | Saby Bhattachaya: sarod | Joe Chindamo: piano and accordion | Tony Gould: piano | Andrew Jones: piano | Leonard Grigoryan: guitar | Craig Newman: bass | David Jones: drums