Songs of Friends, (Independent release)
Josh Kyle/Sam Keevers
Review by Ian Patterson
Having sought and found his muse in London where he recorded his much-lauded debut, Possibilities (Jazzizit, 2011), singer Josh Kyle has since returned to Australia to embark upon a new chapter in what already looks like a stellar career in the making. It wasn’t long either, before Kyle found new inspiration on home soil.
Kyle brings his unique voice and self-penned lyrics to the tunes of four Australian jazz musicans, among them his duo partner on this beguiling project, Sam Keevers. The title of the CD is apt on another level, as the intimacy in Kyle and Keevers’ heartfelt interplay exudes the warmth and easy flow of conversation between confidants. There’s no striving to impress, no dramatic dynamics for effect, and yet within the relative simplicity of the arrangements there resides a quietly powerful chemistry.
The versatile Keevers provides two tunes: on the arresting opener ‘Simple Pleasures’ Kyle follows the tune’s melodic contours fairly faithfully, though his lyrics transform an arresting slow tempo instrumental into a truly memorable ode to love; the elegant, minimalist ‘Ballad of the Cranes’ – from the strikingly original Red Fish Blue recording The Sword and the Brush (Keynetic Records, 2013) – highlights Kyles’ haunting vibrato at the tail end of a lyric. On both tunes the pianist’s solos sparkle briefly but it’s as an accompanist that Keevers really makes his greatest impression, buoying Kyle’s emotive phrasing and adding sympathetic textures.
Keever’s written contributions bookend a tryptich of contrasting compositions by veteran saxophonist/composer Sean Coffin. On the boppish ‘All the Reasons’ Keevers is at his most expansive in a dancing, Thelonious-Monk-esque excursion. Likewise on the rhythmically defined ‘Breathe’ the pianist seduces, his jaunty figures contrasting with Kyles longer, soulful phrasing, which with only slight effort of the imagination conjures Stevie Wonder. Sandwiched between them is the blue-toned ‘Cutez’, with Kyle’s vocal plaintive and longing.
Kyle’s unaccompanied intro to pianist Daniel Gassin’s ‘Crossover’ has the yearning quality of Irish Sean-nós tradition. Keever’s arrival injects a current of warmth. The duo waltz in close unison until the pianist breaks away with another brief and tantalizing improvisation. Singer and pianist reunite for one final spin together on the head, with no light at all between them. A tender reading of singer Kristin Berardi’s ‘One Moment Please’ provides an album highlight. To Keever’s deft accompaniment Kyle travels between fragile, soul-laid-bare intimacy and gently soaring flight on this haunting confessional. It’s a wonderful performance and worthy of a much wider audience than jazz vocal circles.
If there’s one complaint is that the forty plus minutes seem a little short – a sure sign that this duo is pushing all the right buttons. Kyle’s lyrics, like the most affecting poetry, have a simplicity about them that harbors emotive depths. It would make sense for Kyle and Keevers to pursue this collaboration because there is plenty of evidence here that they can take this to sublime places.
Sam Keevers (piano)
Josh Kyle (voice)