The album is a recording from three different concerts in two different venues with three different formats. It is a unique compilation with the formats and settings arranged in beautiful alignment, seamlessly assembled.
The first performance was a piano-bass-drums trio at The Archiduc Bar in Brussells. The second setting was for a solo piano performance at the Library of the Cultural Centre of Bree. The final performance was again at The Archiduc in a duet with Simon Lenski on cello.
Each setting is a splendid expression of Susan’s complete comfort with the various musicians and venues. Each format provides vast opportunity for Susan to give unique voice to her own compositions. Each composition reveals the heart, the soul, the talent of Susan Clynes. As tempting as it is to follow the individual concerts, following the tracks as they are listed also yields delicious fruit.
The opening track is also the title track. “Life is…” is from her solo piano concert at Bree. Susan has a splendid piano technique and her fascinating vocal delivery often runs counter-current to the piano’s melodic line and it is captivating.
“A Good Man” is the first of the piano, bass and drums tracks. It opens with a simple piano approach before turning to a boogie-woogie chorus before repeating the cycle. The ultimate conclusion is that a good man is not a saint—far from it—but a man of courage who can admit wrong. An honest man.
The first duet with cellist Simon Lenski is “Childhood Dreams.” Lenski adds a depth in support of Susan’s wistfulness. This is great musical sometimes it is the piano but most often it is in her vocal delivery which is at once innocent and wise.
Seeing her perform gives an even better understanding of Susan as a musical orator, instrumentalist and composer.
Probably the most melancholy piece is “Les Larmes.” Les Larmes are those salty tears that run down the cheek in unabashed heartbreak. She continues accompanied by the cello here. The sound they create is reminiscent of an old black and white film set in the sand dunes of the desert and rightfully so. The theme focuses on the old Arab-Israeli conflict.
An instrumental, there are occasional vocalizations from Susan which only tighten the grip of the deeply daunting theme. It is easily the most emotional piece of the album with the cello carrying the cries of humanity through age-long struggle and animosity and longing.
Susan’s lyricism and intonation are in lock-step with the exquisitely light swing from Pierre Mottet (bass) and Nico Chkifi (drums). Whether it was the acoustics of The Archiduc Bar or something else, hearing the well-suited treatment from the rhythm section requires a more careful listen which is intensely rewarding in the end. Susan returns to the duet with “When You’re Dead” as Lenski’s cello takes up the mournful melancholy. Together they create a rolling, tumbling feel as if cascading towards nothingness. Susan’s arpeggios are brilliant and sound more progressive than jazzy. Even the theme seems like it belongs on a Porcupine Tree album.
“Le Voyage” is the solo piano again. This is Susan’s display of her beautiful touch and exacting phrasing in a piece that makes the heart soar. There are splendid moments that indeed sound like Tony Banks’ best moments on piano but which Susan completely makes her own. She changes that up with the singer-songwriter style of “Linear Blindness” which she performs on solo piano. As delightful as her vocals are, her piano work is extremely touching and lovely.
The album concludes with “Butterflies.” Lenski is on cello and adds to this piece which is a perfect expression of Susan’s vocals. She sings with a swirling—now louder, now softer—delivery that develops a beautiful image of the butterfly. The cello and piano continue the hypnotic movement until a wave-like, flowing description of stationary flowers emerges before returning and ending with the airborne butterflies. It is amazingly impressionistic and recalls artists and poets of that era.
She has been favorably compared to Annette Peacock, Tori Amos and Laura Nyro. The best thing that can be said of Susan Clynes is that she is like herself alone. She owns herself and her music. She is not the likeness of anyone. Susan is her own question and her own answer.
Susan Clynes' "Life is..." can be purchased from MoonJune Records here.
Visit Susan Clynes' artist website at www.susanclynes.be.