Every once in a while, an artist comes along to quiet the noise, make peace in the stillness, and humble you long enough to listen to her transformative music. In 2011, pianist and composer Catherine Marie Charlton connected poetry and music to her award-winning recording, Red Leaf, Grey Sky with a depth that Shakespeare would’ve envied. On August 7, 2015, she goes one better with Maiden’s Voyage (River Dawn Productions), a triumph of her classical origins.
The traditional jazz standards are here, but done with a hesitation and a wonder — as if Charlton and her spare art band had all the time in the world to devote to every intentional note. They deconstruct time, space, and meaning in the often-covered “Autumn Leaves,” leaving no emotional distraction but honing in on the bare essence of that standard’s aching loneliness as the warm summer sun turns inevitably to the descent of fall and the great unknown. Musically, pianist Charlton, percussionist J. Jody Janetta, double bassist Steve Meashey, flugelhornist Jeff Oster, and Elliott Levin (sax, flute) try to gather the autumn leaves figuratively in a play on subconscious memories and conscious longing.
The listener comes away feeling, rather than thinking. Such is the beautiful ingenuity of Charlton’s focused play, a quality singled out long ago by Grammy-winning New Age cellist David Darling (Music For People).
This is Charlton’s 10th album and four-year reunion with percussionist Janetta, who introduced her to the wonders of classically inspired improvision. In a DL Media release, Charlton explained that about “15 years ago, I was a solo classical pianist beginning to explore improvisation. Jody heard something in my playing akin to the classically-influenced improvised music, which had been a big inspiration to him, and he asked me to perform. From the start, our musical connection was magic. Jody introduced me to his jazz record collection and we went on to perform as a piano-percussion duo for many years. We parted ways for a bit during the time of my solo introspective releases – Red Leaf Grey Sky and River Flow, and have now reunited for Maiden’s Voyage. The one-take improvisation on ‘Beneath The Dream’ was the first track captured on the first day of recording, after four years apart.”
Others joined producer Charlton for the Maiden’s Voyage, including Grammy-winning engineer and producer Phil Nicolo (Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Bob Dylan) handling the mastering, longtime collaborator and recording and mixing engineer Eric Troyer (ELO Part II/The Orchestra), and guest artist Barry Green, a principal bassist for the Cincinnati Symphony.
Besides the deconstructed, elevated covers, there are seven original songs masterfully composed by Charlton, mostly improvised, one or two completely self-contained. Charlton plays with the recording band and solo, left to her own devices while the others speak in whispers and parentheticals, because she has a lot to say.
The songs — 12 plus a bonus second, solo version of “Autumn Leaves” — that serve her originality as an artist the most are the ones that leave her alone with her muse and her piano: chasing fading images and ghosts in “Sepia Moon,” coming to grips with “All That I Feel,” creeping upon understanding from lyrical to discordant in “Beneath The Dream,” immersing fully into Alberto Ginastera’s classical “Dance Of The Graceful Maiden (Danza de la moza donosa).”
In “Dance Of The Graceful Maiden,” untouched by jazz, Charlton is shown making her slow, painless, transition — her maiden’s voyage to uncharted territory.
In these instrumentals of imagery, endless fascination, and spontaneous concerns, Charlton seems to literally create a new form of jazz interpretation, one born of feelings rather than flash, fleshed from instinct and 20-plus years of experience.